Health Index Priority: Decrease Prescription Drug Abuse and Addiction

MaineHealth is implementing a chronic disease management program that incorporates appropriate prescribing of opioids and education about prevention of and treatment for opioid use disorder as close to home as possible.

Why does MaineHealth focus on decreasing prescription drug abuse and addiction?

  • Prescription drug and opioid overdose has risen sharply over the last decade and is considered one of our most pressing public health issues.
  • Maine had the fifth largest increase in drug overdose deaths in the U.S. between 2012-2014 and 2013-2015.  
  • In Maine, about one person per day dies from a drug overdose.
  • The number of drug affected babies born continues to rise. In Maine, about 8% of babies are born with some degree of Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.
  • Drug overdose is now responsible for the most years of life lost prematurely among men under age 70 in Maine.        

Data and measures

The Health Index initiative tracks and monitors a variety of data source to measure progress being made to decrease prescription drug abuse and addiction.

Drug Overdose Death Rates


Comparing the three-year drug overdose death rate from 2012-2014 to 2013-2015, Maine had the fifth largest increase in the nation. Maine's recent surge continued into 2016 with one Mainer per day lost to overdose.

The increase of overdose deaths in Maine and the nation is a result of a shift from increasingly scarce prescription opioids to more available and less expensive heroin. With this shift has come a higher risk of overdose from heroin and the even more deadly fentanyl that is often mixed with, or substituted for, heroin.

Drug Overdose Deaths by Age Group


Although many may associate the involvement of heroin and other street drugs with overdoses among younger adults, there actually has been an increase in the proportion of older adults dying of overdose. In the MaineHealth service area, the percentage of individuals who were ages 45 and over, among all who died of a drug overdose, increased form 30% in 2000-2002 to 46% in 2013-2015.

Neonatal Abstinence Births


In Maine, the department of Health and Human Services reported over 1,000 babies born in 2016, or about 8% of all births, with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome (NAS).

NAS occurs in newborns when a mother who is addicted to or treated with opioids during pregnancy and refers to post-natal opioid withdrawal syndrome. Babies exposed can have lower birthweight, more preterm births, difficulty sleeping and eating and are more anxious. There is limited data on the long-term developmental outcomes related to opioid exposure during pregnancy.

Counties with the highest rate of NAS births include Waldo, Washington and Penobscot counties. Those with the lowest rates of NAS births are in Cumberland and Sagadahoc.

Taking action: Connecting patients to treatment for opioid use disorder

We support a variety of clinical, community and policy actions to help decrease prescription drug abuse and addiction throughout the MaineHealth service area. One of our clinical strategies focuses on developing a systemwide response to the urgent community need surrounding the opioid epidemic.

Maine Behavioral Healthcare is leading the implementation of a systemwide initiative that provides clinicians with trainings and standardized, evidence-based tools for appropriate prescribing of opioids. The initiative integrates behavioral health into general (primary) healthcare, making evidence-based treatment, including medication and counseling, available at the local level.

Leveraging the support and expertise from the MaineHealth behavioral health service line, primary care providers receive support to deliver integrated medically assisted treatment to patients with opioid use disorder.

By September 30, 2018, MaineHealth members will have served 650 patients seeking treatment for opioid use disorder through hubs operated by Maine Behavioral Healthcare and primary care Patient Centered Medical Homes located in each local health service area.

Interactive maps with county-level data

Looking for more data about prescription drug abuse and addiction? Visit the Health Index website to find data on drug deaths, neonatal abstinence births, and days supply of opiates.

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