Drug overdose deaths declined in Portland in 2023, although police are concerned about a surge in overdoses at the end of December.

The number of drug overdose deaths statewide was down 13.6% – 647 to 559 – from January through November last year compared to the same period in 2022. Final numbers from last year are expected to be released in early February, and unless the trend reversed dramatically, Maine will see its first decrease in drug overdose deaths since 2018. The state reported a record 723 overdose deaths – fueled mostly by opioids – in 2022.

The number of overdose deaths in Portland dropped from 51 in 2022 to 47 in 2023, a 7.8% decrease. But Portland police reported Thursday that they saw a large increase in overdoses – both non-fatal and fatal – in December.

“It is typical to see a spike in numbers during the holiday season,” according to a Portland police news release.

But the increase last month was unusual.

Total overdoses reported in Portland increased from 34 in November to 55 in December, a 62% increase, compared to the 12.5% jump from November to December in 2022.


During the final week of 2023, Portland recorded 20 overdoses, three of them fatal.

Drug deaths have ravaged the state and nation for years, as the overprescribing of opioids that started about 20 years ago led to a surge in usage and deaths. People with substance use disorder often start out abusing pills, and then move to street drugs, such as heroin and fentanyl.

Most fatal overdoses have been attributed to fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid that is sometimes mixed into other drugs to increase their potency.

One of the reasons public health experts have cited for the overall decline in overdose deaths in 2023 is the increasing availability of naloxone, the life-saving antidote for opioid overdoses.

Naloxone overdose reversals now number about 2,500 per year statewide, up from about 1,500 in 2020, according to state statistics. A new Maine law that took effect this week requires law enforcement officers statewide to carry naloxone. Officers in many departments, including Portland’s, had already been carrying naloxone.

Other factors that could explain the decrease in overdose deaths are the increasing availability of substance use treatment and more effective treatment methods, experts said.

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