FARMINGTON — Oxford County Sheriff’s Sgt. Matt Baker told a drug forum Wednesday night why the heroin epidemic is personal to him.

He described his unsuccessful efforts to revive his beautiful, smart 23-year-old daughter after she ingested heroin cut with fentanyl last year.

The drugs took her life, he said.

“This is a topic that’s very important to me,” said Baker, one of four panelists at the forum sponsored by the Daily Bulldog newspaper. “The daughter I used to have … who sat on my knee, now sits on my mantle,” he said.

The combination of heroin and fentanyl had been lethal.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is a powerful, synthetic opioid analgesic that’s more potent than morphine. Mixing fentanyl with street-sold heroin or cocaine markedly amplifies their potency and potential dangers. Effects include euphoria, drowsiness/respiratory depression and arrest, nausea, confusion and unconsciousness.

About 50 people questioned the panelists, who included District Attorney Andrew Robinson, Farmington Police Chief Jack Peck and Dr. Art Dingley. The professionals described the quandary of either implementing justice or providing treatment, the connection between drug abuse and crimes, the need for resources to treat addicts and stop the influx of drugs into the state and the destruction of lives.

Heroin is a problem in every community, said moderator Walter Hanstein, a Farmington lawyer. In 2010, there were seven heroin deaths in Maine. Five years later, there were 165, he said.

Peck said his officers have seen their share of overdose deaths and drug-related crimes. The use of heroin has exploded, he said.

District Attorney Robinson said some drug users lose their lives while others commit crimes to feed their habit. It’s a quandary for sentencing drug users, he said. For the one who drives into town to sell drugs, a jail sentence should be automatic. For the individual who possesses or deals drugs because they need help, treatment should factor in, he said.

In Androscoggin County, there is a drug court where violators plead guilty and are given a treatment plan with about six professionals tracking their progress almost weekly. The court handles the worst addicts and only takes 26 cases a year because of resources, Robinson said.

Dingley, a local psychiatrist, said “we got into this fix” because 25 years ago, the federal government decided Medicare and Medicaid patients were not receiving enough pain medication. Doctors responded by writing more opiate prescriptions, he said.

As retail prices on those pills rose, people sought out lower-cost heroin. That was coupled with the public overcoming an aversion to needles, he said.

Police officers said heroin costs about $25 a tab, with up to four tabs to get high.

The cost adds up to around $700 a week, but it’s still less than opiate pills, one audience member said.

Dingley said he does not accept a lack of resources for treatment as an excuse. Society accepts treatment costs for the most addictive drug … nicotine, he said.

“We pay without any complaint” for treatment of lung cancer, he said.

Supply and demand of the drug needs to be curbed, Robinson said. But society also needs to be more accepting and stop ostracizing addicts because they need to feel that people care in order to recover. Addicts also need to reconnect with the community, perhaps through work-based programs with churches and towns, he said.

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