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Maine's Overdose Epidemic “The worst it's ever been.” Senator Collins Cites UMaine Researcher, Presses for Solutions to Opioid Crisis.

At a Health Committee hearing, Senator Collins calls for reducing supply of drugs, improving drug prevention programs

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins Q&A with public health officials.  


Washington, D.C.—U.S. Senator Susan Collins, a member of the Senate Health Committee, participated in a hearing today titled, “Fighting Fentanyl: The Federal Response to a Growing Crisis.”  The hearing featured public health experts who are leading the federal government’s response to the opioid crisis.


“Members of the panel, I say this with great respect for each of you.  I know that you care deeply, and that the policy and programs that you are implementing are well intentioned, but I think we have to face the very unpleasant truth that what we're doing is not working,” Senator Collins began.  “The data overwhelmingly demonstrate that, whether you look at national data or data from the State of Maine.”


The number of total overdoses in Maine exceeded 9,500 last year.  A record high 627 Mainers died from drug overdoses in 2021, and the data from the first part of this year shows a nine percent increase over the comparable period last year.  Fentanyl was involved in 77% of deadly overdoses in Maine.


Senator Collins went on to quote Maine's leading drug overdose and drug death researcher, Dr. Marci Sorg from the University of Maine, who called Maine's overdose epidemic, “The worst it's ever been.”


Last year, Senator Collins visited the Southern border, where Border Patrol officers expressed such frustration that they have had to divert their resources to handling the tremendous influx of people crossing the border rather than focusing on illicit drug interdiction.  Since then, the crisis at the border has only become worse. 


Senator Collins told Kemp Chester, a Senior Policy Advisor for Supply Reduction and International Relations at the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy, “I cannot help but conclude that our inability to secure the southern border has an adverse impact and contributes directly to our inability to stop the flow of drugs into this country.”


In response, Mr. Chester acknowledged that there are challenges at the Southwest Border, but noted that traffickers are very determined and will find any means necessary to smuggle drugs into the United States, whether it is across the border, through the mail, over the sea, or by air.  He explained, “What we have to do is very quickly identify when we have new vulnerabilities when the traffickers have changed the ways that they do business, and close those gaps and vulnerabilities as quickly as we possibly can. And that's what we're in the process of doing right now.”


Mr. Chester also mentioned that he has worked with UMaine’s Dr. Sorg over the past several years.  He highly commended her, calling her an “incredible professional” who “understands this issue better than just about anybody.”


Senator Collins concluded her questions by mentioning the tragic death of a Maine teenager due to a likely overdose from fentanyl in Eustis last month. 


“I just want to tell you about Hannah Flaherty, a 14-year-old girl from Portland.  A straight A student with no history of drug abuse, who died from a suspected fentanyl poisoning last month.


She asked Dr. Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, the Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, what more can be done to reach young people in middle school and high school.


“I remember very well when I was growing up in Caribou in Northern Maine, that we had a recovered heroin addict come in and talk to us, and it was so powerful.  It was incredibly powerful.  So I'm wondering what more we can do to educate students at a young age about the dangers [of drug use].”

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