As the national spotlight shines on the opioid crisis, a crisis that has led to more than 64,000 drug overdose deaths in 2016, Maine is center stage. Opioid related deaths in Maine have steadily increased over the last 15 years, with its sharpest increase over the last 3 years.

In 2016, there were 376 deaths due to drug overdoses. 84% of these overdoses were caused by at least one opioid. Fentanyl and/or heroin/morphine caused 63% of 2016 deaths.

From an economic perspective, the total estimated cost of substance abuse in Maine was $1.4 billion dollars in 2010, or a $1,057 cost for each resident of Maine. Costs include substance abuse treatment, morbidity, mortality, crime, medical care, and other related costs.

While certain legislation is being made to improve the state of Maine‚Äôs opioid epidemic, our protocol for treatment is lacking. We must do more to address the opioid crisis with a multi-level and evidence-based approach. As Maine’s next governor, I will seek to:

  • Declare a state of emergency. Under every definition, Maine is in a state of emergency in regards to the opioid crisis. Opioid use in Maine has increased rapidly over the last few years and trending much higher than the national average. In order to gain control over this issue, declaring a state of emergency will push legislation to address the problem.
  • Prioritize and support the development of comprehensive, evidence-based treatment including combinations of individual and group counseling, inpatient and residential treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, partial hospital programs, case or care management, and medication assisted treatment (MAT) (e.g., recovery support services, 12-step fellowship, and peer support).
  • Address doctor shopping to prevent patients from receiving prescriptions for controlled substances from multiple doctors. The development of prescription drug monitoring programs are useful for providers to check prescriptions across state lines and should be required upon initial prescribing and at set intervals (e.g. 3 months).
  • Ensure that treatment places for substance abuse are on the front lines of the opioid crisis. We need to ensure that we provide assistance to individuals transitioning from intensive care (specialized substance misuse centers) to continuous care (primary health care practices, family services, pain management clinics etc.). Comprehensive treatment plans are more cost effective and have longer lasting results.
  • Reduce knowledge gaps of opioid misuse and to provide alternative pain management options. For instance, education on appropriate diagnosis and treatment of chronic pain. Utilizing the CDC Guidelines for Prescribing Opioids for Chronic Pain should be encouraged. Other pain management modalities include physical therapy, acupuncture, and non-narcotic therapy.

We must unite as a state to provide the community of support that our citizens need to overcome opioid misuse and addiction. The opioid crisis is taking a toll on our resources and our people. We cannot afford to lose the future of our state. We must recognize the seriousness of this epidemic and invest in accessible, preventative, and community centered interventions.