Gov. Janet Mills has announced $1.9 million in new funding to expand substance use disorder treatment in rural Maine while the state fights an “unrelenting” drug epidemic.

“In York County, many people struggle to find treatment options and obtain access to lifesaving harm-reduction strategies,” said Cheri Sullivan, director of Coastal Healthy Communities Coalition, a Saco-based nonprofit focused on local health issues, including substance abuse. “These newly designated funds will help provide flexible options and one-on-one support in communities where services are often scarce, and transportation can be a barrier to getting support.”

According to annual reports from the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine, opioids are blamed for more than 80% of drug-induced deaths in the county from 2016-2020. York County, according to the center, went from just six drug-induced deaths in 1997 to 74 in 2020. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data for 2020 shows 496 overdose deaths in Maine, and only 393 deaths in neighboring New Hampshire. Nationwide, the CDC reported just over 96,000 overdose-related deaths in 2020 alone.

The new funding, according to a statement from Mills issued this week, will be distributed by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Behavioral Health in the form of substance use disorder grants. The funding comes on the heels of similar state-funded grants issued by Mills in July.

“Maine is within the crushing grip of an unrelenting epidemic, worsened by the effects of the pandemic and the increased presence of highly lethal fentanyl. It’s killing a record number of Maine people – people who are our family, friends, and neighbors,” Mills said. “We are putting these funds to work to expand the availability of substance use disorder treatment in rural Maine so that we can save lives, put more people on the road to recovery, and, in time, turn the tide on this deadly epidemic.”

The release did not define “rural” communities, and a spokesperson for Mills’ office did not respond to a request for clarification.

Sullivan said she looks forward to seeing the funds help ongoing efforts in York County.

“Our coalition has seen firsthand the impact that access to resources can have on decreasing the rate of overdoses. Funding like this is an important step in providing all Mainers with the level of care they deserve,” she said.