Maine is on pace to experience another record year for drug overdose deaths, according to a news release from the state attorney general. Through the first six months of 2016 the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner recorded 189 deaths attributable to drug overdose, according to Dr. Marcella Sorg of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, who analyzes overdose deaths for the Office of the Attorney General. This represents a 50 percent increase over the same six month period last year.

The increase in the number of deaths is driven by fentanyl, an illicitly manufactured drug that is many times more lethal than morphine. Illicit fentanyl and its chemical analogs caused 44% of the January-June deaths. Fentanyl products are often mixed with or presented to the user as heroin.

In 2015 Maine experienced a total of 272 overdose deaths, 126 in the first half of the year and 146 in the second half. This year’s total may be at least 378 or higher. Pharmaceutical painkillers, often trafficked from out of state, have continued to be an important feature of overdose deaths, affecting about 45 percent of the deaths. Pharmaceutical and illicit opioid drugs are often found in combination.

Attorney General Janet Mills has sponsored a series of public education TV and radio ads and launched a website, doseofrealitymaine.org, to share information about the safe handling and disposal of prescription painkillers, which are easily abused and lead to addiction.

The Attorney General’s Office has also been distributing naloxone to local law enforcement agencies in recent months so that officers responding to a suspected overdose can administer the opiate overdose antidote. To date, the office has distributed 866 doses to 26 law enforcement agencies and those agencies have reported administering the naloxone 14 times at overdose scenes.