AUGUSTA, Maine — Driven by the quick rise of fentanyl-related deaths, Maine averaged more than one drug overdose death per day in 2016, setting a third consecutive all-time record that underscores the urgency of the state’s opiate crisis.

Maine’s total of 376 overdose deaths last year outpaced 2015’s previous all-time high of 272 by 39 percent, according to data released by Attorney General Janet Mills on April 11.

Of those deaths, 313 were attributed to opiates. Maine set an annual record for overdose deaths for the third straight year since 2014, when there were 208 overdose deaths.

More than half of all overdose deaths — or 195 — were attributed to fentanyl, an opiate often illicitly used to dilute heroin even though it is up to 100 times more potent than morphine.

Its presence has risen quickly in Maine, which had only nine deaths linked to fentanyl in 2013. Deaths attributed to fentanyl skyrocketed by 127 percent between 2015 and 2016 in Maine. Heroin caused another 123 deaths, which was a 15 percent increase over the previous year.

“We are losing more than one person each day to a drug overdose,” Mills said in a statement. “We need to reach out to friends and neighbors and let them know that whatever is wrong in their lives, no drug is going to solve their problems, not for one second.”

Ashley Angela Winchell, who also went by the name Maya Champaign, was just one of the Mainers who died as a result of an overdose in 2016. She was 21.

In her case, the drug was heroin, and the overdose that ended her life was on Aug. 19 in Trenton. The fatal overdose was her eighth.

R. Christopher Almy, district attorney for Penobscot and Pisataquis counties, is among those in the legal community whose work is being affected by the troubling trend.

“One repercussion will be the investigation and prosecution of those supplying the deadly overdose. It’s a serious crime, and the victims’ families will be pushing the issue,” he said.

BDN writer Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.

Update: The Attorney General’s Office on April 11 lowered the number of overdose deaths from 378 to 376.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...