Overdose deaths rise; Portland looks to expand services

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PORTLAND — Overdose statistics released Monday by the state show a need for the city to expand measures to fight opioid use, a Portland official said Tuesday.

“I think they are shocking, tragic and one more piece of evidence what we are doing is what we should be doing, said Dawn Stiles, who directs the city Health and Human Services Department.

State Attorney General Janet Mills said Monday 286 people in Maine died from overdoses through the end of September. In 2015, 272 overdose deaths were recorded for the entire year.

Mills released the statistics on a day when city police responded to six overdose calls. The state statistics do not detail how may deaths occurred in Portland in the first nine months of the year.

There were 63 fatal overdoses in Cumberland County through Sept. 30, Mills’ spokesman Timothy Feeley said. Through June 1, there were 21 overdose deaths in the city, city Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said in September.

Data from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and Dr. Marcella Sorg of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Maine showed 195 of the deaths “are due to at least one illicitly manufactured drug,” including methamphetamine, with 182 deaths linked to”illicitly manufactured opioid drugs.”

Mills said the increased use of fentanyl and and fentanyl “analogs” was a primary cause of the increases in fatal overdoses.

On Nov. 10, the City Council Health & Human Services Committee, led by Councilor Ed Suslovic, was presented with a list of suggestions by the city’s Substance Use Prevention Program to fight opioid use, addiction and overdoses.

Included in the list are continued support for the needle exchange program at the India Street Public Health Center, more overdose prevention and training for city staff, and providing naloxone, known by its Narcan trade name, at all city buildings.

Narcan immediately reverses the effects of an overdose by blocking the effect of opioids. Once carried only by city emergency medical responders, Sauschuck ordered his patrol officers to begin carrying it Sept. 30.

The recommendations also call for an enlarged role by the Milestone Foundation, which operates treatment and detox services on India Street.

Stiles and Suslovic said the city is looking into expanding the number of beds for people needing detox services, perhaps by using funds from the sale of the city-owned Cotton Street garage.

Because proceeds from the sale would be channeled back into Community Development Block Grant funds, they could then be redirected to Milestone, Suslovic said Monday.

Stiles also advocated expanding both staffing and hours for Milestone’s HOME Team. The HOME team assists people in distress from mental health or substance use disorders and could benefit from overlapping shifts, a second vehicle, an EMT-level responder, and a housing coordinator.

In the last year, Sauschuck also created and funded a police liaison to accompany police on overdose calls when possible and follow up with victims, even if they could not make it to the scene.

Oliver Bradeen, who had been a part of the police response team for people needing mental health services, began his new role in February. While he does not specifically place victims in treatment, he does seek to offer whatever assistance he can, including referrals to available services.

Stiles and Suslovic said further evidence the city’s approaches have worked came last month when members of the Greater Portland Addiction Collaborative visited the White House to secure federal funding from the “Pay for Success” program.

The collaborative includes Mercy Hospital, city officials and members of nonprofits.

“It bumps us up the ladder significantly in terms of funding possibilities,” Suslovic said. 

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.