Darren Fishell

Darren Fishell

Data reporter and wrangler

See the towns where opioid prescriptions soared in Maine from 2006 to 2012

Written on July 23, 2019

In the Maine county with the highest rate of opioid deaths in the state in 2016, three communities received some of the highest amounts of prescription opioids statewide from 2006 to 2012, according to data acquired through a freedom of information lawsuit by The Washington Post and HD Media.

By county, Penobscot led Maine for the number of pills issued per person from 2006 to 2012. The full data for Maine shows a more detailed picture of which specific pharmacies received the most prescriptions for painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone.

Explore the local trends in the chart below. Hover to see yearly prescribing patterns and totals by pharmacy for a location.

The data includes an extreme outlier in Indian Island, where the pharmacy PIN Rx received the equivalent of 819 pills for each of the island’s 610 residents during its years in operation.

That particular outlier is old news: the pharmacy closed in scandal, with its pharmacist Reginald Gracie Jr. sent to prison in 2012 for taking kickbacks to fill mail-order drug prescriptions, mostly for hydrocodone, according to the Bangor Daily News.

Elsewhere, the data sheds new light on prescription patterns in Maine communities, showing what The Post described as “a virtual road map to the nation’s opioid epidemic that began with prescription pills.”

For instance, the data for Washington County shows outsize prescription totals for the communities of Marshfield, Calais and Machias. The data includes prescriptions issued in seven communities in the county: Calais, Machias, Marshfield, Milbridge, Perry, Princeton and Steuben.

For average annual pills distributed, Bangor topped all communities in Maine, but the city lagged many other smaller communities when adjusting for population size. In Penobscot County alone, the communities of Newport, Lincoln and Patten had more pills distributed at local pharmacies, per capita.

Notes on the data and access to files: The data for the above visualization was cleaned slightly, as a handful of towns in the DEA records were incorrectly identified or misspelled. For instance, the Cumberland County town of Bridgton (no ‘e’) was spelled as “Bridgeton” in multiple cases. Other addresses referred to villages of towns that, for the purpose of a per capita comparison, should be considered as part of the larger municipality.

The population file is a subset of the subcounty population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, including only “primitive geographies,” defined as “the lowest level of mutually exclusive entities.”

Access both files here

I also published the small iPython notebook that was used to load and clean the DEA data from the Washington Post’s source file for Maine, also available for direct download here.