Maine averaged more than an overdose death per day in 2016

Good evening from the BDN Portland office on Congress Street. Here’s what’s up.

What we’re talking about

Maine averaged more than an overdose death per day in 2016 — I’m just going to let Michael Shepherd lay out the latest milestone in measuring Maine’s failure to effectively confront its opioid crisis:

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 378 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 Thursday.

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.”

For perspective, re-read Erin Rhoda’s exhaustively reported story on one overdose death in 2015. His name is Garrett Brown.

A Munjoy Hill native is turning this abandoned building into an ‘anti big box store’ — Kathleen Pierce reports on a new grocery store opening soon on Washington Avenue:

On the surface it seems there are no shortages of places to pick up fresh food in Portland. But native Joe Fournier, who grew up on Munjoy Hill, begs to differ.

Signing a lease on a rundown, boarded up 1920s Washington Avenue building, which was last home to a printing shop, the 36-year-old is ready to up the ante.

“When I grew up there were markets on every block,” says Fournier, who remembers when the Blue Spoon restaurant and Hilltop Coffee were neighborhood convenience stores.

The city isn’t great about clearing its sidewalks — Though private property owners can be fined for not shoveling or clearing ice from sidewalks, there’s very little forcing the city to keep its walkways clear, the Press Herald’s Egan Millard reports.

Portland bookstore donates weekend sales to help local immigrants — Print: A Bookstore vowed to serve the community when it opened in November. Now, owner Emily Russo is standing behind her words. On Saturday, the Congress Street shop will donate all profits, up to $3,000, to the ACLU of Maine. The move was promoted “in light of President Donald J. Trump’s recent executive order on immigration and in solidarity with Portland’s immigrant community,” Russo wrote in an email. — Kathleen Pierce

Portland Museum of Art reopens tomorrow night — Shut down for a month, the Congress Square museum will crack open its doors with a celebratory light show tomorrow night. As part of the First Friday Artwalk festivities, “Lights Across Congress” will feature projected images of Portland history on the museum’s facade. It’s billed as “the largest multidimensional projections in Portland’s history.” Ice sculptors and food trucks are also taking over the square, turning the zone into a winter carnival. Free Street at Congress Street will be closed to traffic during the art walk. Starts at 6 p.m. — Kathleen Pierce

Tweet of the day

From Amanda Terkel:

The Big Idea

Screenshot 2017-02-02 15.03.43

‘Refugees are already vigorously vetted. I know because I vetted them.’ — Natasha Hall writes in the Washington Post:

During nearly four years as an immigration officer with Homeland Security, I conducted in-person interviews with hundreds of refugees in 10 countries from 20 different nationalities. I have had countless refugees break down crying in my interview room because of the length and severity of the vetting process. From that experience and numerous security briefings, I can affirm that whoever wrote Trump’s executive order blocking refugees from the U.S. is wholly unfamiliar with the U.S. immigration system, U.S. laws, international law, and the security threats facing our nation.

Matt Stone previously wrote about the process here in Maine.

Got any interesting story ideas, suggestions or links to share? Email Dan MacLeod at, or tweet @dsmacleod.

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Dan MacLeod

About Dan MacLeod

Dan MacLeod is the managing editor of the Bangor Daily News. He's an Orland native who first moved to Portland in 2002. He's been a journalist since 2008, and previously worked for the New York Post and the Brooklyn Paper.