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'Isolation Is Addiction's Best Friend' - Drug Overdose Deaths On The Rise In Maine

Ted S. Warren
AP Images
In this March 27, 2020 photo, a patient arriving to pick up medication for opioid addiction is given hand sanitizer at a clinic in Olympia, Wash.

Drug overdose deaths in Maine are on the rise.

According to a report from the state Attorney General's office, drug deaths increased by 23 percent in the first quarter of this year, compared to the last quarter of 2019. Substance abuse experts say the coronavirus pandemic is considered a major factor behind the surge.

From January through March, 127 people in Maine died from drug overdoses. That is compared to 103 people who died in the three months prior. Most of the deaths were caused by two or more drugs, with at least one being opioids. Preliminary overdose numbers for the second quarter of this year show a continuation of the upward trend.

The increase is no a surprise to Suzanne Farley, the Executive Director of Bangor-based addiction treatment agency Wellspring.

"We know that isolation is addiction's best friend."

She says many people are confronting additional stresses caused by the coronavirus pandemic, such as isolation and unemployment.

"They're worried about the future. They don't know what the future holds. All of those things create anxiety in people, and people are looking for relief from anxiety, often, and substances do that."

Farley says boosting reimbursement rates for substance use treatment would help. It would allow Wellspring to attract and hire more staff to serve additional clients.

"The biggest reason that I can't serve as many people as we might is that I just don't have the capacity. And one of the reasons I don't have the capacity is that it's really hard to hire qualified people in the state."

In a written statement, Maine's Director of Opioid Response, Gordon Smith, says the state is holding a summit next Thursday that will examine current efforts and consider steps to improve access to remote recovery services.

Originally published 11:01 a.m. July 17, 2020

Updated 4:46 p.m. July 17, 2020.