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Home - Razor’s Edge – Fall 2010

In Maine, illicit drugs such as cocaine and heroin have a foothold. But like other rural areas, the social context and geography here aren’t as conducive as they are in states with denser populations and major metropolitan corridors where drug trafficking networks can really hum.

Isolation works against the illicits.

Filling the void are pharmaceuticals diverted from their prescribed use. Today in Maine, more people die from prescription drugs than motor vehicle accidents or illicit drugs, according to Sorg.

According to a recent U.S. Centers for Disease Control report, the number of accidental overdoses has exceeded motor vehicle fatalities nationally. Most of these drug deaths are due to pharmaceuticals, primarily narcotics.

Methadone and oxycodone are the top two narcotics causing prescription opiate deaths in Maine. Beyond that, nearly a third of Maine’s drug-related deaths are caused by a second category of drugs, the benzodiazepines, including commonly prescribed tranquilizers such as Xanax, Klonopin or Valium.

In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009, the Maine Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) logged more than 2.4 million prescriptions for scheduled drugs — narcotic analgesics, sedatives and stimulants.

Between state fiscal years 2008 and 2009, the number of prescriptions for controlled drugs, those monitored by Maine’s PMP, rose by 5.8 percent, according to Sorg’s analysis of the Maine Office of Substance Abuse data.

The controlled drugs most prescribed in Maine are narcotic pain relievers.

The confluence of widespread use and associated abuse is what Sorg characterizes as the razor’s edge.

“Prescription drugs are a very complex issue because they occupy both sides of the razor’s edge separating legitimate therapy from misuse and abuse. The leading edge of the problem is the diversion of prescribed drugs to people for whom they were not prescribed or using them for a different purpose,” says Sorg. “Some of that diversion can be relatively innocent: You borrow your friend’s pain medicine for your headache, and that’s one level of diversion. That escalates when someone takes someone else’s pills and sells them.”

It’s this level of diversion — that slippage over the razor’s edge — that has Maine officials on high alert.

“We are a pretty typical rural state and, as such, we have more of a problem with prescription than illicit drugs,” Sorg says. “Prescription drugs are more available. We are at the end of the trafficking highways from the major sources of illicits. Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont have similar problems with prescription drug abuse.”

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