- Associated Press - Thursday, February 22, 2018

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) - The number of drug-induced deaths in Maine continued to rise last year although at a slower pace than the previous year, Maine’s attorney general said Thursday.

There were 418 drug-induced deaths in the state last year, up 11 percent from the previous year’s record, Attorney General Janet Mills said. The number of drug deaths rose by 40 percent from 2015 to 2016.

The latest report comes as new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show 14 states, including Massachusetts and Rhode Island, saw a decline in drug overdose deaths in the 12-month period that ended July 2017.

Maine has seen rising numbers of deaths due to drug overdose in recent years. Lawmakers have passed the nation’s toughest dosage limits for opioid medication, while several addiction professionals say the state has been too slow to roll out efforts aimed at expanding treatment.

Mills attributed last year’s increase to a 27 percent rise in fentanyl-related deaths. The number of heroin deaths in the state dropped.

The number of deaths from cocaine and methamphetamine also rose in 2017, Mills said. About 85 percent of the deaths were caused by at least one opioid, whether pharmaceutical or illegal, she said.

Mills, a Democrat who’s running for governor, called for expanded public education, prevention and treatment.

“In addition, we need triage teams with recovery coaches and medication assisted treatment available at every emergency room, and more drug courts to help those in trouble with the law,” she said.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage has long called for a crackdown on drug traffickers and recently pushed to prevent Maine adults younger than 21 from accessing the overdose-reversing medication naloxone without a prescription. LePage didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The Maine Democratic Party criticized the governor for restricting access to naloxone as drug deaths rise.

“Not only has the governor failed to act in any meaningful way to address the opioid crisis, but he’s exacerbated it by actively working to restrict access to lifesaving treatment and anti-overdose medication,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett.

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