The Sun Journal analyzed data from the United States Drug Enforcement Administration’s Consolidated Order and Reporting Automation System, or ARCOS, from 2006 to 2014, as well as 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 has made the raw data available to the public after prevailing in a lawsuit asking for the data in 2019.
The PMP data was obtained through a Freedom of Access Act request and a signed data sharing agreement with the database administrators, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Because the PMP contains patient information, the Sun Journal could only access records identifying the pharmacy at which a prescription was filled, but no information identifying the patient or prescriber.
Because the court order only disclosed certain years of ARCOS data and Maine law governing the PMP requires DHHS to destroy data older than six years, the Sun Journal was unable to access the 2015 data.
The ARCOS and PMP databases do not correspond exactly line by line: ARCOS data describes shipments of sales to buyers (pharmacies and practitioners, among others), while PMP data describes singular transactions in which a prescription is filled and dispensed to a patient in a pharmacy. Detailed raw data describes a single buyer transaction.
To account for these differences, the Sun Journal analysis includes only transactions of tablets or capsules (pills) of oxycodone and hydrocodone at retail pharmacies or drugstore chains in Maine. Hospital pharmacies, out-of-state mail order pharmacies, and practitioners, for example, were not included.
The analysis looked at the number of pain medications flowing in and out of Maine pharmacies per year and calculated a rate of medications per person by county and by individual pharmacy. In 2011, for example, a total of 6,358,650 oxycodone and hydrocodone tablets were dispensed through pharmacies in Androscoggin County, which equals 59 tablets per county resident after adjusting for population.
From 2006 to 2014, the United States DEA recorded 61,232,334 pain pills that went into 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 rural areas of the state and/or areas where there may not be many pharmacies.
CONFIRMED DATA ON DRUG DEATHS
The Sun Journal analyzed the annual number of confirmed drug-related deaths, from 1997 to September 2021, using data from drug-related death reports from the Margaret’s Rural Drug and Alcohol Research Program Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine and the Maine Attorney General’s Office, as well as data provided by Dr. Marcella Sorg of UMaine in response to a Sun Journal FOAA request.
For county-level data, Sun Journal analysis took a rolling three-year average of deaths and adjusted for population to account for year-to-year fluctuations in deaths and changes of population.
SUSPICIOUS DATA ON FATAL AND NON-FATAL OVERDOSAGE
The Sun Journal analyzed data from the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention on suspected fatal and non-fatal overdoses in emergency departments, from 2017 to 2021. The data is publicly available on the Maine CDC website.
Population counts used a five-year moving average of annual population estimates from the US Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, or the decennial census, and intercensal population estimates when ACS data are not available. were not available.
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