Drug overdoses continue to claim hundreds of lives in Maine

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AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - New state data shows that opioid overdoses are continuing to claim hundreds of lives in Maine.

The state attorney general and chief medical examiner said Friday that Maine saw 282 deaths due to drug overdoses in the first three quarters of 2018.

That's slightly down from 297 in the same period in 2017.

The vast majority of overdoses stem from opioid drugs.

However, cocaine or crack was on the rise, causing 25 percent of total deaths, continuing to increase from 16% in 2016 and 22% in 2017.

Additionally, most (228, 81 percent) drug deaths were caused by two or more drugs in combination.

On average, the cause of death involved three drugs. 82 percent of overdoses were caused by at least one opioid. Non-pharmaceutical fentanyl and/or its analogs caused 61% of deaths either alone or in combination with other drugs. Compared to 2017 as a whole, deaths due to non-pharmaceutical fentanyl are slightly more likely to include other drugs, but less likely to include pharmaceutical opioids.

Additionally, there has been an increase in cocaine and methamphetamine deaths, with cocaine increasingly being mixed with fentanyl and heroin.

Democratic Attorney General Aaron Frey said Maine welcomes the "slight reduction" but said the opioid epidemic remains a public health crisis.

Democratic Maine Gov. Janet Mills this week signed an executive order to direct $1.6 million in existing state and federal funds for initiatives including making overdose antidote Naloxone more widely available.

Lawmakers last year approved $6.7 million to increase reimbursement rates for medication-assisted treatment.