Drug overdose deaths in the state decreased slightly in the third quarter of 2020, but total deaths year-to-date are on pace to significantly exceed those in 2019, according to a press release issued Monday, Jan. 11, by the offices of the Attorney General and the Chief Medical Examiner.

Overdose deaths in the state totaled 380 at the end of September 2020, with that nine-month tally identical to the total for all of 2019 when 380 Mainers died from drug overdoses.

Six Waldo County residents died of drug overdoses from January through the end of September 2020, up from four in the first half of the year. Drug-related deaths in the county were projected to reach eight through year-end, according to the Maine Drug Death Report compiled by Drs. Marcella Sorg and Kiley Daley of the University of Maine's Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center.

In 2019, three Waldo County people died from opioid overdoses. Nine died from drug overdoses in 2018, with six of those deaths attributed to opioids (cocaine and methamphetamine are not opioids). Of the eight drug-related deaths in the county in 2017, seven were caused by opioids, according to Sorg in an interview last year with The Republican Journal.

The third-quarter report projects 505 drug-related deaths for the full year 2020, which would exceed the peak of 417 deaths recorded in 2017.

A report with final totals of drug-related deaths in 2020 is expected to be released in April.

The latest report showed that 122 deaths in the state were caused by drugs in the third quarter of 2020. This is a 7% decrease from the second quarter of 2020. According to the report, 83% of deaths were caused by at least one opioid, frequently nonpharmaceutical fentanyl, and 81% of deaths were caused by two or more drugs.

The report notes, similarly to last quarter's report, that these increases are comparable to increases being seen nationally, which probably are "due at least in part to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and related mitigation measures: isolation, avoidance of or difficulty accessing medical services, and alterations in the illicit drug supply."

A link to the full report from Drs. Sorg and Daley is available on the attorney general's website at maine.gov/ag/news.