PRESCRIPTION DATA

The Sun Journal analyzed data from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, or ARCOS, from 2006 to 2014, along with data from Maine’s Prescription Monitoring Program, or PMP, from 2016 to 2021; for this report.

The Sun Journal was able to obtain and analyze the ARCOS data because The Washington Post made the raw data available to the public after it prevailed in a lawsuit seeking the data in 2019.

The PMP data was obtained through a Freedom of Access Act request and a data-sharing agreement signed with the database’s administrators, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Because the PMP houses patient information, the Sun Journal was only able to access records that identified the pharmacy at which a prescription was filled, but not any patient- or prescriber-identifying information.

Because the court order unsealed only certain years of ARCOS data and the Maine law governing the PMP requires DHHS to destroy data older than six years, the Sun Journal was not able to access data for 2015.

The ARCOS and PMP databases are not a line-by-line exact match: The ARCOS data describes shipments of sales to buyers (pharmacies and practitioners, among others), while the PMP data describes singular transactions in which a prescription is filled and dispensed to a patient at a pharmacy. The itemized raw data describes a transaction of a single buyer.

In order to account for these differences, the Sun Journal analysis includes only transactions of tablets or capsules (pills) of oxycodone and hydrocodone at retail or chain pharmacies in Maine. Hospital pharmacies, out-of-state mail order pharmacies and practitioners, for example, were not included.

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The analysis looked at how many pain pills flowed in and out of Maine pharmacies per year and calculated a pills-per-person rate by county and by individual pharmacy. In 2011, for example, a total of 6,358,650 oxycodone and hydrocodone pills went to pharmacies in Androscoggin County, which amounts to 59 pills per county resident when adjusted for population.

From 2006 to 2014, the U.S. DEA recorded 61,232,334 pain pills that went to Androscoggin County, enough for an average of 47 pills per person each year.

In addition to adjusting for population, the pills-per-person rate for individual pharmacies is adjusted for the number of pharmacies in each county per year to account for the rural areas of the state and/or areas where there may not be many pharmacies.

CONFIRMED DRUG DEATH DATA

The Sun Journal analyzed annual confirmed drug death counts, from 1997 through September of 2021, using data from drug death reports from the Rural Drug and Alcohol Research Program at the University of Maine Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and the Office of the Maine Attorney General, as well as data supplied by Dr. Marcella Sorg of UMaine in response to a FOAA request from the Sun Journal.

For county-level data, the Sun Journal’s analysis took a three-year moving average of deaths and adjusted for population in order to account for year-to-year fluctuations in deaths and population changes.

SUSPECTED FATAL AND NONFATAL OVERDOSE DATA

The Sun Journal analyzed data from the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention of suspected fatal and nonfatal overdoses in emergency departments, from 2017 to 2021. The data is publicly available on the Maine CDC’s website.

POPULATION COUNTS

Population counts used a five-year rolling average of annual population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, or the Decennial Census, and intercensal population estimates when ACS data were not available.

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