Drug overdose deaths declined by 16% last year in Maine, the first year-over-year reduction in fatalities since 2018.

It could be a sign that the opioid crisis is easing, although public health experts are not declaring victory.

The number of overdose deaths decreased from 723 in 2022 to 607 in 2023, according to a Maine attorney general’s office report. Public health experts have said there are numerous reasons for the decline, including increasing access to the life-saving antidote naloxone and making more treatment programs available.

The decline follows a nearly uninterrupted decade-long increase in drug overdose deaths, the result of the continuing epidemic of opioid use combined with increased availability of more potent drugs such as fentanyl and other street drugs. Overdose deaths increased from 176 in 2013 to 723 in 2022, with 2018 being the only year-over-year decrease.

From 2013-23, 4,648 Maine people died from drug overdoses.

Whitney Parrish Perry, director of operations for Maine Access Points, a harm reduction group that distributes naloxone and operates a syringe exchange program at four locations in Maine, said the state’s commitment to improving access to naloxone has saved lives.


“I strongly believe the state’s naloxone response is in large part a reason for that decline,” Parrish Perry said. “The Mills administration has honed in on community distribution of naloxone as a priority.”

Naloxone reversals increased from about 1,500 per year in 2020 to about 2,500 per year now. The drug is administered as a nasal spray when someone has overdosed.

Parrish Perry said another noticeable improvement is access to telehealth for drug treatment programs, which is especially useful in rural areas where it can be difficult to access treatment.

“Maine people are still losing too many friends and family members to substance use disorders and highly lethal drugs like fentanyl,” said Gordon Smith, Maine’s director of opioid response, in a statement to the Press Herald.

“I also believe the investments we’ve made in prevention, treatment, and recovery services have contributed to this decrease, and while this is welcome news that should bring a sense of relief, our cautious optimism shouldn’t become complacency,” Smith said. “We remain deeply committed to working hard on strategies to prevent people from using dangerous drugs, helping more individuals enter treatment, find recovery and harm reduction supports, and most importantly, stay alive.”

Nonfatal overdoses in Maine also declined in 2023, from 9,760 in 2022 to 9,047, a 7.3% reduction.

In her State of the State address on Tuesday, Gov. Janet Mills proposed spending an additional $6 million on various initiatives to combat the opioid crisis, including further increasing access to naloxone and expanding medication-assisted treatment in the county jail system. The Mills administration currently spends about $40 million to $60 million per year on the opioid crisis.

Detox beds, which are used for withdrawal from opioids and other substances, including alcohol, are expected to expand to about 100 statewide, up from about 20 in 2020. The detox beds can help stabilize patients and connect them to treatment.

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