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A New Tool to Help Reduce Non-fatal and Fatal Drug Overdoses

The opioid epidemic continues to claim the lives of far too many people in our State and throughout the country.  In 2022, an estimated 716 Mainers died from drug overdoses, taking an extraordinary toll on families and communities.  Last year was the third consecutive year that Maine set a tragic record of fatal overdoses.  Annual overdose deaths have more than quadrupled in the past decade.  


The 716 overdose deaths in Maine in 2022 were part of the more than 10,110 total overdoses that were reported.  The skyrocketing rate of non-fatal overdoses helps to reveal the enormous and growing scale of this crisis that has been exacerbated by the flood of deadly fentanyl.  Law enforcement and public health officials have told me that more accurate and timely information on non-fatal overdoses is needed to help combat the opioid epidemic by better identifying trends, targeting drug education efforts, informing response efforts, and allowing responders to focus resources where they are needed most.


As a member of the Senate Health Committee, I have pressed top federal officials to do more to track non-fatal overdoses since they are a leading predictor for future fatal overdoses.   In addition to raising this issue at a hearing last March, I included a provision in the 2023 government funding law requiring the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) to identify ways to improve the timeliness, accuracy, and accessibility of fatal and non-fatal overdose data.


Recently, ONDCP launched the first-of-its-kind data dashboard for non-fatal opioid overdoses nationwide.  With the data broken down to both state and county levels, first responders on the frontlines of the overdose epidemic will be better able to target life-saving interventions such as the overdose-reversal medication naloxone.  The dashboard will also help inform state and local service providers as they connect people to life-saving treatment for substance use disorders. 


            Reducing the number of overdoses requires an all-of-the-above approach.  The 2023 government funding law provides $4.9 billion—a nearly $300 million increase over last year—to respond to the opioid epidemic.  Funds will be used to improve treatment and prevention efforts; find alternative pain medications; address workforce needs, especially in rural communities; and promote research.


            Another key provision included in the government funding law is the Medication Access and Training Expansion Act.  This legislation that I co-authored with Senator Michael Bennet (D-CO) will improve provider training to ensure prescribers of controlled substances, such as opioids, have foundational knowledge of addiction prevention, treatment, and medication management. Other provisions I pushed for in the government funding law will support key investments in medical education and the removal of barriers to accessing needed treatment.


Together, these provisions will strengthen the ability of first responders and clinicians to save lives, provide more resources to individuals struggling with addiction, and give policymakers the information needed to respond to the opioid epidemic.  As the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, I will continue to work with federal and state officials and with those on the front lines to address this crisis.