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Maine Hosts Opioid Response Summit to Address Ongoing Crisis

Maine has seen a 41.5% drop in opioid prescriptions since 2013. (Tech. Sgt. Mark R.W. Orders-Woempner/U.S. Air Force)
Maine has seen a 41.5% drop in opioid prescriptions since 2013. (Tech. Sgt. Mark R.W. Orders-Woempner/U.S. Air Force)
July 15, 2019

AUGUSTA, Maine — Experts from across the country are in Maine today for the state's first Opioid Response Summit.

Gov. Janet Mills will be joined by health-care providers, law enforcement and people affected by the crisis. Though overdose deaths in the state were down from 417 in 2017 to 354 in 2018, opioids still cause 80% of all fatal drug overdoses in Maine.

Sam Quinones, author of the book "Dreamland: The True Tale of America's Opiate Epidemic," is the summit's keynote speaker. His book is widely credited with bringing attention to the pharmaceutical and health-care industries' roles in the crisis.

"What I'm going to talk about are the roots, first of all, of this epidemic - which is now the deadliest drug scourge we've ever had in this country - and how we got to where we are,” Quinones said; “what those factors were: changes in our heroin market, changes in modern medicine and also, changes of American culture and society, I think."

The summit, which is currently at capacity, will begin with comments from Gov. Mills at 8:15 a.m. at the Augusta Civic Center, and continue until 4:30 p.m. Quinones is scheduled to begin speaking at 8:45 a.m. Those who were unable to sign up ahead of time can still catch the event via livestream.

An estimated 80% of people who use heroin started with an opioid prescription. Quinones said when he first started writing the book, he didn't realize the roles that doctors and drug companies played in the epidemic. But, he said, his research led him to a truth that has now shaken the country.

He added that before the book came out in 2015, families affected by addiction seemed less likely to share the extent of their struggles.

"After the book came out, you saw this rising awareness - more people talking about it, more people feeling permission to come out of the shadows, obituaries and so on that tell the truth,” he said. “All these kinds of things began to happen after 'Dreamland' came out."

Still, the number of opioid-related deaths continued to rise after the book's release. Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts are among the states hardest hit by the epidemic.

Jenn Stanley, Public News Service - ME