AUGUSTA – In 2020, 504 Mainers died from drug overdoses, according to the annual report released Wednesday, June 23, by the offices of the Attorney General and the Chief Medical Examiner. Those drug deaths constitute a 33% increase over 380 in 2019. Of the deaths last year, 336 were caused by non-pharmaceutical fentanyl, a 30% increase over 2019.

In Waldo County, nine people died of drug overdoses in 2020, triple the number of drug deaths (three) in the county the previous year.

The two offices also released state drug overdose data for March and April 2021, as well as cumulative totals for January through April. In March this year, an estimated 53 individuals died from drug overdoses; 30 of those drug deaths are confirmed and 23 are suspected. In April, an estimated 48 individuals died from drug overdoses, with 10 of them confirmed and 38 suspected. Of the drug deaths in 2021 through the end of April, 76% were attributed to non-pharmaceutical fentanyl.

From January through April in Waldo County, four people died of drug overdoses.

The reports, compiled by Dr. Marcella Sorg of the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, will continue to be released monthly, according to a press release from the two offices, and will be posted on https://mainedrugdata.com.

Among the deaths statewide during the first four months of 2021, out of 199 confirmed and suspected fatal overdoses, 187 (94%) of the victims were identified as white, eight (4%) as Black or African American, and four (1%) as American Indian/Alaska Native, according to Sorg’s April report. Of the 194 for which Hispanic ethnicity was reported, 192 (99%) were reported as not Hispanic, and two (1%) were identified as Hispanic. Of the 199 cases, 17 (9%) were identified as having a military background. Prior overdose history was reported for 66 (33%) of the victims. Transient housing status was reported for 17 (9%) of the victims.

Most of those who died of drug overdoses in Maine through April this year were males, according to Sorg’s report, and 89% of them were between the ages of 18 and 59 (41% between 18 and 39, and 48% between 40 and 59). Most of the deaths were suspected or confirmed as accidental, not suicide.

Nonpharmaceutical fentanyl was the most frequent cause of death during the first four months of 2021 at 73%, 9% higher than in 2020. Fentanyl is nearly always found in combination with multiple other drugs, Sorg’s report stated. Heroin involvement has been declining during the last several years, causing 7% of 2021 deaths, compared to 11% last year. Illicit stimulants have been increasingly mentioned as a cause of death in recent years, and in the first four months of 2021, methamphetamine caused 28% of the overdoses, compared to 20% in 2020.

Cocaine-involved fatalities January through April constituted 20% of cases, slightly lower than 23% in
2020, the report said. Fentanyl is found in combination with cocaine in 17% of cases, and in combination with methamphetamine in 21%. Pharmaceutical opioids were named as a cause of death in 25% of
cases during the first four months of 2021, all in combination with other drugs, just 2% higher
than in 2020.