• Health Equity Alliance

How Many Deaths Are Too Many?

Updated: Jul 23, 2018

by Kenney Miller

While people continue to die, the legislature stalls.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills today announced the 2017 state drug overdose statistics. The State of Maine saw 418 drug-induced deaths in 2017. Drug overdose deaths increased by 11% in 2017 over the previous year. 

We are saddened by the continued increase in overdose deaths throughout Maine. The opioid crisis is far from over and we are dedicated to continuing to address it however possible. Naloxone access and harm reduction programming are an important tool in the toolbox to address this issue. After nearly 100 years of trying to address drug use by punishing people who use drugs we must admit that tough love just doesn't work. Although we continue to arrest people, there continues to be no impact on rates of drug use. Study after study has shown that you can't force people into treatment, but you can support them until they reach recovery. Today, letting people hit rock bottom is equivalent to a death sentence.

Comparatively, countries like Portugal decriminalized drugs over a decade ago, and saw a rapid decline in overdose deaths, HIV and other drug-related issues. Even attacks on drug traffickers appear to only compound the problem, making drugs more dangerous. And evidence suggests that such strategies do little to deter trafficking. By making drug use a criminal issue we perpetuate the stigma attached to people who use drugs. We drive it underground. We make it harder to treat, harder to reduce harm, harder to intervene. We exacerbate the overdose crisis and fuel the invisible hepatitis C epidemic. Meanwhile we are spending more and more on a failed approach.

During the last two years, HEAL has distributed 442 Naloxone kits directly to people who use drugs, with more than 160 reported reversals. That's more than 100 families spared the tragic loss of a loved one. We know what works. Right now, there are a series of bills making their way through the legislature to address this critical issue. But as they approach the appropriations table there's a real concern that they'll stall out because of their price tags. We've talked the problem to death. Formed coalitions and task forces and heard their recommendations. Now we just need to political will to truly do something about this crisis. It's time for them to put their money where their mouth is.