Maine In the Grips of Overdose Crisis


Opioid crisis hitting Maine hard – officials formulate plan

Maine’s task force studying the opioid crisis is due to give its recommendations to the Legislature.

The task force has been studying the opioid epidemic, existing programs targeting the crisis and promising programs in other states.

Law enforcement officials say 185 Mainers died of a drug overdose in the first six months of this year. Last year, the total number of deaths was 376.

Much of the epidemic in Maine has been caused by the spread of prescription opioids. U.S. residents make up about 5 percent of the world’s population, but they consume over 85 percent of all opioid drugs prescribed across the globe.

Portland in particular, is in dire need of better solutions for its addicted population, notes Margo Walsh, founder of Portland-based employment agency MaineWorks.

As prescriptions give way to street heroin, crime accelerates. In Portland, 85 percent of all crime is drug- or alcohol-related, Walsh said. The typical cost for an opioid abuser to maintain their habit by purchasing drugs on the street is $200 to $400 a day, she said.

“You have a lot of people committing crazy crimes … that’s why,” Walsh said.

The addiction problem traces back decades to poorly conducted early opioid studies that incorrectly determined the drugs were not addictive. Of the roughly 15 million Americans who take prescription opioids, an estimated 40 to 50 percent abuse the drugs by not taking them as directed.

Fortunately, innovative companies are trying to create preventative solutions. “The innovative tools available to cities and municipalities are quite limited,” said panelist Newsha Ghaeli, co-founder and CEO of Biobot Labs. “What we’re hoping to do is to understand consumption in the city.”

The goal is to shift data collection and response away from overdose and death, and move it in the direction of early detection and overdose prevention, she said.

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