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Report says Maine cocaine deaths rising

Researchers say age of dependency is getting younger

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Associated Press / January 6, 2008

BANGOR - Cocaine-related deaths in Maine are on the rise while methadone-related deaths have decreased for the second year in a row, according to a new report from the Margaret Chase Smith Center on Public Policy at the University of Maine.

The Bangor Daily News, citing the new study, reported that in 2005 there were 23 drug-related deaths involving the presence of cocaine, while in 2006 the number was 31.

"Cocaine is emerging as a very significant problem in Maine," researcher and professor Marcella Sorg said Friday.

Sorg has been compiling and analyzing information from the state medical examiner's office to track patterns in accidental deaths and suicides related to drug use since 2002. She also tracks admissions for treatment, arrests, evidence from crime scenes and other materials to establish trends in drug use. In an analysis from June 2007, Sorg said that the number of people being treated for cocaine dependency increased every year since 2000 and that the age of those seeking treatment is getting younger.

Sorg's report, released last week, points to Maine's high level of illicit use of prescription narcotics and other drugs.

Overall, deaths related to prescription drugs dropped from 141 in 2005 to 133 in 2006. The numbers include deaths in which combinations of drugs and alcohol were identified in toxicology reports.

At the Maine Office of Substance Abuse, acting director Guy Cousins said Friday his agency has been working with the Maine Medical Association and the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency to provide guidance to Maine doctors and other providers regarding their prescribing practices.

Cousins said alcohol remains the greatest substance abuse problem in Maine, accounting for more than 11,000 admissions to treatment programs in 2007.

Maine Drug Enforcement Agency director Roy McKinney said cocaine and crack cocaine have been present in Maine for many years, but in the past two years his agency has seen a marked increase.

"About 50 percent of our arrests and investigations now involve cocaine," McKinney said Friday. He added that the amount of cocaine seized in drug busts has increased as well, including almost a kilogram of crack cocaine confiscated at a single raid in southern Maine in 2007.

"That amount is pretty much unheard of in Maine," he said.

For more information go to the Bangor Daily News website at bangornews.com.

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