- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - Just as in Vermont, heroin abuse has grown in Maine, with 28 people in the state dying from overdoses in 2012, the attorney general’s office announced Wednesday.

Attorney General Janet Mills said heroin use is on the rise, partly because of regulations restricting prescriptions for oxycodone and regulations requiring tamper-resistant packaging of prescription opioids. Heroin is also becoming cheaper.

The 28 deaths were among 163 drug-induced deaths in Maine in 2012, she said.

“Each of these deaths represents a waste of a life, a preventable tragedy,” Mills said in a statement. “The destruction of lives by drugs deserves our intensive intervention and society’s full attention.”

A review of the first 11 months of 2013 shows that the number of heroin deaths remained high during the year and will likely exceed 2012 levels. Mills said her office prosecuted about 630 felony drug cases in 2013.

In Vermont, where the number of heroin overdose deaths almost doubled from nine to 17 last year, Gov. Peter Shumlin took the unusual step of devoting almost his entire State of the State address to the state’s heroin problem, and he called in his budget proposal Wednesday for $10 million in new spending on the problem.

In his address, he described the drug abuse as “a crisis bubbling just beneath the surface” and called on the Legislature to pass laws encouraging treatment. He also called for stiffer penalties for traffickers and people who use weapons in drug crimes.

Roy McKinney, director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, told the Portland Press Herald that the rise in heroin-related deaths corresponds to what his agents are seeing on the streets: More heroin and less synthetic narcotics.

In 2011, the MDEA investigated 69 heroin cases. In 2012, that jumped to 223 cases. During the same time, the number of investigations involving synthetic drugs decreased from 386 to 294.

“Prescription drugs are getting harder to obtain and therefore abuse,” McKinney told the newspaper. “But users are going to turn to something.”

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