DEA holds event in Augusta teaching best practices on prescribing to Maine practitioners

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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - The Drug Enforcement Administration held a special event in Augusta Wednesday aimed at giving practitioners the latest tools to help fight prescription drug abuse and addiction.

The Maine Practitioner Diversion Awareness Training was for DEA-registered doctors, dentists, physician assistants and more.

"We're in a crisis like we've never seen before," said Jon DeLena, Associate Special Agent in Charge of the DEA's New England Field Division. "We're losing 77,000 Americans to a drug overdose (every year). We've never experienced anything like this in our country."

Practitioners from around the state gathered to hear from the DEA and other speakers on best practices dealing with the drug epidemic.

The training included lessons on prescribing drugs as well as identifying methods of diversion and red flags.

"This is an opportunity to respond to the crisis that we're dealing with -- not just law enforcement anymore," said DeLena. "It's law enforcement, it's treatment, it's prevention, and education. I think when we all come together like this, it really shows what Mainers are all about."

"Maine's had a dramatic decrease, and we don't see the overprescribing that was pretty rampant," said Maine Director of Opioid Response Gordon Smith.

DeLena says even as states battle the drug crisis, Mexican cartels are creating even more dangerous drugs.

"We know now that the cartels in Mexico are manufacturing fake pills made with nothing but fentanyl inside them but made to look like a professional grade hydrocodone, oxycodone, percocet, xanax, and they're flooding our market with those pills," said DeLena.

Maine's Drug Czar Gordon Smith says he's focused on prevention and saving lives.

He says that programs they've been working on since the beginning of the year have already made a difference, such as treating people in jails and emergency rooms, and the expansion of naloxone/narcan across the state.

"I think the most important thing we've done is to change the tone around the state so that people know that we're serious about treating substance abuse disorder as a chronic illness, and getting people into treatment, and providing them with support in a non-judgmental way -- breaking down that stigma," said Smith.