- Associated Press - Friday, September 15, 2017

Maine’s health agency cited privacy concerns over its decision to prevent a researcher from publicizing his research that shows how many people had contact with a doctor before dying of drug overdoses in 2016.

Researcher and physician David Loxterkamp told the state he wanted to use his data for a medical journal article on overdose deaths, the Bangor Daily News (https://bit.ly/2xERdgo ) reported. Maine saw 376 drug overdose deaths in 2016. Loxterkamp examined the 338 deaths that were not ruled to be suicides.

While the state raised concerns that Loxterkamp’s data contains identifying information, the researcher said they don’t contain names, dates of birth or addresses. They instead include details such as the county and month in which the person died, the relationship between the deceased person and the person who found him or her, and if or when the deceased person was last prescribed a drug that is prone to abuse.

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“In the midst of an escalating opioid overdose epidemic, we must use every tool at our disposal to save lives,” said Loxterkamp told the newspaper.

Some of Loxterkamp’s information comes from the state’s prescription monitoring program overseen by the Department of Health and Human Services.

State law allows publication of such information if it’s for educational, research or public policy reasons. Information likely to identify a patient must be removed.

Department spokeswoman Samantha Edwards told Loxterkamp the prescription monitoring program is confidential and not to be disseminated.

Loxterkamp also compiled information from public state medical examiner records.

Last year, 82 percent of the 338 people who died of non-suicide-related drug overdoses died alone. That could indicate the limits of the drug naloxone, which is administered to reverse an opioid overdose.

Most overdose victims were discovered by a family member, close friend or significant other after they died. The vast majority of overdose deaths were caused by at least one opioid, such as heroin, fentanyl or certain prescription medicines.

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