The following is a transcript of a radio address presented by Governor Janet Mills:
The US CDC recently reported that more than 93,000 people died from drug overdoses nationwide last year, a staggering record reflecting the coronavirus pandemic’s toll on efforts to quell the opioid crisis and the continued spread of illegal fentanyl in the narcotic supply.
Hello, this is Governor Janet Mills. Thank you for listening.
Here in Maine, the Attorney General’s Office disclosed that 504 people died from opioid overdose in 2020, a 33 percent increase over the year before. More than 300 of those deaths were due to fentanyl, a 30 percent increase over the year before. Sadly, those numbers have not improved to date this year.
The pandemic has been difficult in so many ways, but this increase in drug overdose deaths is another example of how it has hurt our state and our entire nation.
My heart breaks for the friends, family, and community members we have lost – people who had meaningful lives.
Our state is diminished by their loss. Our nation is diminished by these deaths.
There is no simple solution to ending substance use disorder and these overdoses, but at my third annual overdose response summit, we rededicated ourselves to preventing addiction, persevering through this opioid epidemic, and achieving our full promise as a people and a place.
To prevent early use of addictive substances by children and young people, we will increase the number of children’s behavioral health counselors, promote healthy outdoor afterschool programs, and leverage funds from the private sector and the federal government to sustain successful prevention efforts led by community members across Maine.
And to reduce the number of prescribed and illegally obtained opioids, we will use the Prescription Monitoring Program to identify and educate physicians and others who overprescribe opioids and we will strengthen law enforcement’s efforts to prosecute drug traffickers who are bringing these substances to our streets.
Just in the last few months, in several different incidents, our Department of Public Safety seized more than four pounds of fentanyl from the streets of Augusta, Bangor, Portland, Old Orchard Beach and across the state. Four pounds! When a tiny amount will kill somebody. Four pounds!
And to ensure that treatment for substance use disorder is affordable and accessible, we will work to expand medication assisted treatment and to educate people with substance use disorders on different treatment options so they can find the best program for their needs.
And to support life-long successful recovery, especially for young Mainers, we are increasing the number of recovery coaches and expanding and broadening the StrengthenME program, a coalition of community organizations and agencies providing free resiliency resources to anyone experiencing hardships caused by the pandemic.
We have a long way to go towards healing our state, but there is always hope and the hard work of Maine people which has seen us through hard times before.
We survived the last sixteen months not just by staying apart to stay safe, but by treating each other with compassion and care, connecting in different ways to those who need it most. That’s at the heart of who we are. It is also at the heart of our perseverance through this pandemic.
With one crisis waning, we now redouble our efforts to reach every person struggling with substance use disorder. We say, with one voice, your home is here. We promise to never lose hope. We are ready to help.
If anyone listening right now needs support, or knows someone who does, please call 207-221-8198, seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. You can find resources online at knowyouroptions.me.
This is Governor Janet Mills. Thank you for listening.