Maine sees rise in heroin use, deaths
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Numerous states, including Maine, are reporting a rise in heroin use as many addicts shift from more costly and harder-to-get prescription opiates to this cheaper alternative. A look at what’s happening in Maine:
Heroin use surged in Maine in the early 2000s, was displaced by prescription opiates for a few years, then regained an alarming footing in the state again, says Maine Drug Enforcement Agency Director Roy McKinney. Like elsewhere in the country, Maine saw the latest rise in heroin use following efforts by law enforcement officials and the medical community to clamp down on prescription drug abuse. McKinney says the surge has swamped the agency’s resources, forcing officials to put some investigations before others. “We are triaging,” he says.
Maine’s heroin-related deaths stood at 43 in 2005 before falling to seven in 2010 and again at seven in 2011, then jumping four-fold to 28 in 2012, according to the state medical examiner’s office. The number of people seeking treatment for heroin use grew in nearly every age group last year, according to the Office of Substance and Mental Health Services. Nearly 1,040 people between the ages of 18 and 25 sought treatment for heroin last year, compared with 780 the year prior. The state DEA conducted more than 300 heroin investigations last year compared with roughly 80 cases in 2011, McKinney said.
In his State of the State address, Republican Gov. Paul LePage called upon lawmakers to help him confront the “troubling epidemic.” He wants to add 14 drug enforcement agents, four drug prosecutors and four judges for special drug courts. Critics of the plan say it’s too focused on enforcement. The Democratic-led House and Senate are trying to scale back the proposal to include funding for treatment.
Legislators also are poised to consider a measure to allow health care professionals to prescribe overdose antidote naloxone to family members or caregivers of addicts and to allow more medical personnel, police officers and firefighters to administer the opiate-reversing drug. The LePage administration has cited concerns about the legislation raising Medicaid costs.
LePage vetoed a similar bill last year, saying that it would provide a “false sense of security that abusers are somehow safe from overdose if they have a prescription nearby.” Republican lawmakers currently are supporting a version that would expand access to more law enforcement officers and medical personnel, but not to others. They say they’re worried that providing naloxone to those who may not know how to administer the drug could be dangerous.