International Overdose Awareness Day Highlights Need to Stop the Flow of Fentanyl into Maine
For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Maine
PORTLAND, Maine: On International Overdose Awareness Day, an annual commemoration to raise awareness of overdose prevention and reduce the stigma of drug-related deaths, U.S. Attorney Darcie N. McElwee warned of the serious fentanyl crisis and advocated for a coordinated effort to help those experiencing substance dependence while stopping the flow of drugs into Maine.
“Too many lives are being lost to fentanyl. Many, if not most, don’t even know they are taking it until it is too late,” McElwee said. “Fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine – so potent that even an amount as small as two grains of salt can be deadly – yet dealers are mixing it into counterfeit pills to sell to unsuspecting buyers. We’ve even seen reports of a dangerous new trend of candy-colored or ‘rainbow fentanyl’ which could be a sign that traffickers are targeting even younger users.”
According to Mainedrugdata.org, through June 2022, there were nearly 5,000 overdoses in Maine, an increase of 18% over the same period last year. 329 Mainers died, and fentanyl – alone or used in combination with other drugs – is suspected to have a played a role in 77% of those deaths.
“Through the first half of this year, every single Maine county, from the largest to the smallest, had seen at least four overdose deaths,” McElwee said, citing data from the Maine Drug Data Hub. “One county, Franklin, had already surpassed the total number of deaths in 2021, and several other counties and the state overall are on pace to do the same. This is not just an issue for the state’s more urban areas. This is an issue from Aroostook County to York County.”
Stemming the tide of drugs flowing into the state by out-of-state traffickers is a priority for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
“Much of the work my office does is prosecuting those responsible for bringing illicit drugs, including fentanyl, into Maine from other states,” she said. “These prosecutions seek to accomplish three goals: stem the illegal distribution of drugs in Maine, send a message to traffickers that they will face serious repercussions, and provide some justice to Maine families impacted by drug dependence or the loss of a loved one to an overdose.”
But McElwee emphasized that law enforcement is just one part of the solution.
“We all play a role in raising awareness that substance use disorder is a disease that requires treatment, resources and coordinated attention,” McElwee said. “While punishing those who push these drugs is important, so is reducing stigma, making treatment accessible and implementing harm reduction strategies for those impacted by them.”
McElwee urged those struggling with a substance use disorder and their family members to talk to a doctor or pharmacist about naloxone (“Narcan”) which can reverse an opioid overdose when administered to someone experiencing an overdose. Signs of an overdose include unconsciousness, very small pupils, slow or shallow breathing, vomiting, an inability to speak, faint heartbeat, limp arms and legs, pale skin, and/or purple lips and fingernails.
“Naloxone is easy to administer and may reverse an opioid overdose until medical personnel can arrive,” McElwee said. “If you have a loved one who uses opioids, you should have naloxone handy. Ask your loved one to carry it as well and to let friends know where it is since someone experiencing an overdose is incapable of administering it themselves.”
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Updated January 3, 2023