Patterns and Trends of Drug Abuse in Maine: June 2013

Marcella H. Sorg, Ph.D., R.N., D-ABFA

Summary of Key Findings for the 2012-Early 2013 Reporting Period:

  • Pharmaceutical opioid abuse indicators in Maine remained very high in 2012 and early 2013.
  • Some indicators, including deaths, decreased for the first time in many years, even as all of the heroin indicators were rising.
  • Compared with 2012, the variety of emerging synthetic drugs, particularly substituted cathinones, decreased in Maine during the first 5 months of 2013, as indicated by law enforcement seizures.
  • Parallel with a slight decline in leading indicators regarding abuse of pharmaceutical opioids,  heroin has re-emerged as a problem, with moderate levels and increasing trends.


Heroin deaths in 2010 and 2011 bottomed out at 4 percent, but they rose to 14 percent in 2012. Heroin arrests by the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency (MDEA) began to increase in 2011, and during the first quarter of 2013 they constituted 18 percent of arrests (compared with 5 percent in 2010). Primary treatment admissions increased from 7 percent in 2010 to 11 percent in the first half of 2012.


Cocaine/crack abuse indicators were mostly in decline, except for a slight rise in the number of arrests. Deaths in which cocaine was mentioned on the death certificate as a cause or contributor, which peaked at 19 percent in 2006–2007, have remained at 5–8 percent in the last few years. Arrests reached a low point during 2012, but they began to increase slightly during the first quarter of 2013. Law enforce­ment cocaine seizure samples found to be adulterated with levamisole decreased from 47 percent in 2011, to 13 percent in early 2012, and to 9 percent in the first 5 months of 2013.


Marijuana indicators have been mixed, with increasing use. Marijuana arrests continued to decline, reaching 6 percent in the first quarter of 2013, while the percentage of drug-impaired drivers with cannabinoid-positive urine increased, reaching 41 percent in the first 5 months of 2013. Primary marijuana treatment admis­sions remained at a 9-percent plateau for the fourth year in a row.


Pharmaceutical opioid abuse remained very high in 2012 and early 2013 indicators, contributing to 61 percent of early 2012 deaths, 71 percent of early 2013 impaired driver toxicology tests, 37 percent of 2012  primary treatment admissions, 32 percent of early 2013 arrests, and 25 percent of early 2013 forensic laboratory samples. The proportion of pharmaceutical opioid arrests declined from 40 percent in 2012 to 32 percent in early 2013, but the level of admissions continued to rise. Primary treatment admissions for opiates/opioids outpaced those for heroin. Pharmacy robberies demanding opioids peaked at 56 in 2012, but they declined to 5 in the first 5 months of the 2013. Benzodiazepines continued to play a critical role as co-intoxicants with opioids in deaths and impaired drivers. Pharmaceutical opioids were detected along with one or more benzodiazepines in 41 percent of the urine tests of drug-impaired drivers in the first 5 months of 2013. There has been a decline in deaths caused by benzodiazepines to 26 percent in the first half of 2012.


Methamphetamine indicators were at low levels, but arrest and admissions indicators showed an increase in 2012. In addition, the number of primary treatment admissions increased slightly, totaling 46 in 2012. MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine) indicators were at extremely low levels, and have declined across all indicators.

Synthetic Drugs

Synthetic cathinones have been an increas­ing problem statewide, involved with 14 percent of MDEA drug arrests in the first quarter of 2013, which was an increase from 6 percent in 2012.  However, among seizures analyzed, the number and variety of different compounds decreased from 132 items, representing 14 drugs in 2012, to 34 items tested in the first 5 months of 2013, representing 3 different compounds, primarily alpha-PVP (alpha-pyrrolidinopentiophenone). Piperazines and tryptamines have both appeared in Maine since 2010, but numbers are small and have declined in early 2013, as indicated by law enforcement seizures.

For inquiries regarding this report, contact Marcella H. Sorg, Ph.D., R.N., D-ABFA, Director, Rural Drug and Alcohol Research Program, Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center, University of Maine, Building 4, 5784 York Complex, Orono, ME 04469, Phone: 207–581–2596, Fax: 207–581–1266, E-mail: