Pubdate: Thu, 12 Jan 2006
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2006 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Methadone)
Bookmark: (Oxycontin/Oxycodone)


State Officials Alarmed by Grisly '05 Statistics

AUGUSTA - Grisly and somber statistics released by state officials
Wednesday indicate that last year for the first time in modern Maine
history, drug-related deaths outnumbered motor vehicle casualties.
Preliminary figures show there were 178 drug-related deaths in Maine
in 2005 while 168 people died in motor vehicle accidents in the state.

As the grim statistics were revealed during a press conference, Gov.
John Baldacci took aim at the Bush White House, saying it continued to
turn its back on the suffering of Maine families. He noted that
federal funding to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency has been cut by
40 percent.

With the state's drug problem continuing to spiral out of control, the
cuts would decimate the agency charged with curtailing it, officials

On Wednesday, Baldacci said he would propose $640,000 in new state
money from the General Fund to make up for the federal cuts.

Public Safety Commissioner Michael Cantara also blamed the federal
government for "walking away" from its responsibility, citing that the
drugs killing Mainers were federally regulated narcotics and were
being trafficked across state lines, a federal offense.

Maine Attorney General Steve Rowe called Washington's response to the
drug problem "shameful."

While there was a fair amount of politics involved in Wednesday's
press conference, the bottom line was the staggering statistics.

Of the 178 drug-related deaths, 140 were deemed accidental overdoses.
In comparison, there were 19 accidental drug-related deaths in 1997.

The average age of those who died was 40, and two-thirds were

The 168 motor vehicle deaths were the lowest number in 23

OxyContin deaths have declined due to the state and national fight to
curb the abuse of the narcotic.

In 2005, 75 of the drug-related deaths were attributed to methadone,
the drug most often used to treat opiate addiction.

Methadone was the leading drug that killed in 2005, but often was used
in combination with other drugs.

Officials, however, were quick to point out that the majority of those
who died from an overdose of methadone had ingested the pill form of
the drug, prescribed by physicians for pain, rather than the liquid
form distributed at drug-recovery clinics.

Physicians have become cautious when prescribing OxyContin because of
its potential for abuse, and have switched to drugs such as methadone
and morphine for pain, Kim Johnson, director of the Office of
Substance Abuse, said.

"The drug of choice is still OxyContin, but it's not available,"
Johnson said.

Hence, methadone and morphine deaths are on the rise.

On Wednesday, Cantara pointed to several recent armed robberies linked
to drug addiction and said the problem of drug abuse was bringing a
new level of violence to the state.

On display was a shotgun, two handguns and a grenade launcher seized
recently from a sport utility vehicle that stopped in a park-and-ride
lot in Sidney. Bags of cocaine and opiates also were found inside the

"We have experienced a sharp rise in the number of armed robberies in
this state, and most of those can be directly linked to the growing
drug problem in our state," Cantara said.

Baldacci said he was profoundly troubled by the most recent

"But as the problem worsens, federal assistance is falling. We are
losing their [the federal government's] partnership, and Maine
families are suffering," he said.

If approved, the $640,000 will allow the Maine Attorney General's
Office to retain its six prosecutors who focus solely on drug cases,
as well as maintain MDEA's field agents.

In fiscal year 2004-2005, the MDEA conducted 806 investigations and
arrested 688 people. 
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