Maine saw 565 fatal overdoses in the first 10 months of 2022, putting the state on track to exceed overdose death records set in 2020 and 2021. Credit: Michael Rourke / AP

Maine is on track again to see a record number of overdose deaths by the end of the year.

In October, 58 people died from drug overdoses, according to the most recently released state overdose statistics. Eleven of those deaths — the highest total for any Maine county — happened in Penobscot County, which has been disproportionately affected by the state’s ongoing and worsening opioid epidemic.

October’s overdose deaths brought the state to 565 overdose deaths in the first 10 months of the year, putting it on track to exceed last year’s record of 631 overdose deaths. If Maine sets another record, it would be the third year in a row in which it’s done so.

Experts have attributed the worsening overdose numbers in recent years to the disruptive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on treatment and recovery programs, but also to an increasingly potent drug supply, with the powerful fentanyl cut into a greater variety of illegal drugs.

“To the extent that the overdose deaths are related to fentanyl, these numbers are commensurate with the increase in the amount of fentanyl MDEA is seizing,” said Cmdr. Peter Arno of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. “A total of approximately 7 pounds was seized last month in Penobscot, Hancock and Aroostook counties alone. The amount of fentanyl available locally is at a level never seen before.”

The state has identified Penobscot County as a priority county for efforts to reduce overdose deaths. In October, Bangor received a $200,000 grant from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention to step up such efforts across the county.

So far this year, suspected fatal overdoses are nearly 5 percent higher than in the first 10 months of 2021. The state averaged 56.5 suspected overdose deaths a month for the first 10 months of 2022. If that rate continues, Maine could record 678 overdose deaths by the end of the year, 47 more than last year and 174 more than in 2020.

In October, Penobscot County’s total of 11 overdose deaths was nearly double that of the more populous Cumberland and York counties, which each recorded six overdose deaths, according to the recently released monthly overdose report from the Maine attorney general’s office and state Office of Behavioral Health.

In the first 10 months of the year, 85 people have died of suspected overdoses in Penobscot County, compared with 108 in Cumberland County and 78 in York County.

Also in October, Oxford County recorded eight suspected overdose deaths while Aroostook had six, bringing those counties’ totals to 28 and 39 suspected overdose deaths respectively for the first 10 months of the year. Those counties’ share of drug overdose deaths exceed their share of the state’s population.

No overdose deaths were recorded in October in three counties — Franklin, Hancock and Sagadahoc. Two each were reported in Knox, Lincoln, Piscataquis, Somerset, Waldo and Washington counties. Androscoggin County recorded five suspected overdose deaths and Kennebec County reported four.

Fentanyl, heroin, methamphetamine or some combination of those drugs continue to be the cause of the majority of fatal overdoses, according to the report.

The vast majority of Mainers who overdose survive, according to the data.

Some 7,923 people survived overdoses primarily due to the use of the overdose reversal drug naloxone. It most often was administered in a hospital emergency room. That figure represents 93.3 percent of recorded overdoses.