ELLSWORTH — Drug overdose deaths increased again in 2017, according to a report released on Thursday from the Maine Attorney General’s Office.
Statewide, 418 people died from overdoses in 2017 — more than one per day. Portland saw more than one death per week. Hancock County recorded fewer than 10 overdose deaths.
The increase was smaller than the previous year, which saw a nearly 40 percent jump, but there was “a sharp increase of 27 percent in deaths due to illegal fentanyl and fentanyl analogs,” according to the report.
Deaths from heroin and benzodiazepine use decreased, while those attributed to cocaine and methamphetamine both ticked upward.
Hancock County has historically had high rates of arrests involving pharmaceutical narcotics, ranking among the top statewide at 8.9 arrests per 10,000 people, according to a 2013 Department of Health and Human Services analysis. Knox County had the highest number of arrests that year.
Arrests for drug abuse violations were down in Hancock County from 2015 and 2016, according to the most recent statistics available from the Department of Public Safety.
In the report, Mills singled out fentanyl, which was responsible for 247 deaths.
“When people ingest this powerful powder, they often believe it is heroin, and have been told it’s heroin,” Mills said. “But no one should take a chance with these substances. Even as dangerous as heroin is, fentanyl is hundreds times more likely to kill you.
“The equivalent of a few grains of fentanyl can take your life. It is so dangerous that the federal DEA has warned police and public safety personnel to guard against exposure to fumes from fentanyl powder.”
The report added that “illicit fentanyl and its analogs are manufactured in labs in China and often shipped into the United States through other countries and into Maine through Massachusetts and other states. Traffickers often lace heroin with fentanyl and sell fentanyl as heroin because fentanyl is cheaper to make and the profit margin for dealers is so much higher.”
Mills has presented a 10-point plan to address the opioid epidemic in Maine, which has a higher rate of drug-related deaths than the nationwide average. A copy of the plan can be found at www.maine.gov/ag/news/index.shtml.
In the Thursday release, Mills called for public education and prevention “along with a progressive approach to treatment, including the ‘hub-and-spokes’ model used in Vermont,” adding that “we need triage teams with recovery coaches and medication assisted treatment available at every emergency room, and more drug courts to help those in trouble with the law.”