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Maine Drug-Overdose Deaths Climb, Could Surpass Record

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Friday, September 18, 2020   

PORTLAND, Maine -- Close to 260 people likely died from overdoses in Maine during the first half of this year, according to preliminary estimates. If this continues, 2020 will be the worst year for overdose deaths in state history.

Leslie Clarke, executive director of the Portland Recovery Community Center, said COVID-19 and increased social isolation are factors probably contributing to this tragic spike. One big point struck Clarke about these losses:

"The common factor of people who overdose is, they're alone," said Clarke. "So, how do we find additional ways to create the possibility of connection at people's darkest moments?"

Clarke noted that after the pandemic began, the Portland Recovery Community Center quickly made recovery meetings available on Zoom, and its telephone peer support line is a lot more active.

She also explained she wants to add another service to help prevent overdoses, as she's worried they're not reaching some of the folks who used to walk in for urgent help.

Suzanne Farley is executive director of Wellspring, which provides addiction counseling, a detox center, and mental-health services to residential and outpatient clients -- many of whom are lower-income.

According to Farley, more people started seeking treatment over the summer, particularly in August.

"Anecdotally, I suspect that people had started using again because of COVID," she said. "And it's been a few months and now, people are starting to kind of lift their heads up and go, 'Well, this is not the life I want. How do I get help?'"

Farley predicts that even more Mainers will need substance-use treatment this fall and winter. She said she hopes the state will be able to support publicly-funded agencies like hers well enough so they can continue to provide these community health services.

Right now, she said, her organization is facing a deficit.


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