PARIS — Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant recently told a group of town administrators he had to change not only his way of thinking, but that of his deputies when dealing with the heroin epidemic after people continued to overdose and die. 

Now his department carries Narcan, a medicine that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose. When he first brought Narcan to his department, training was voluntary. He discovered some deputies chose not to get trained. The sheriff questioned them and said he received responses such as, “They’re addicts. They’re druggies.”

“Every one of my cruisers also carries an AED,” Gallant said. “I said, ‘You had no problem when I gave you an AED, but now I am going to give you some Narcan to save lives. Our job is to save lives. It is not up to us to judge how they got to where they are.”

He changed his policy and made it mandatory for his deputies to have the Narcan training. All 30 of his cruisers have the life-saving medicine in it, tucked in a front pocket of the AED case.

But even armed with the life-saving medicine, things could get worse across the state if trends continue. If drug overdose deaths remain on track for 2016, it’s projected 378 Mainers could lose their battle to addiction by year’s end, Gallant said.

That is just one startling statistic the sheriff shared with the eight administrators during last week’s meeting at the Oxford Hills Chamber of Commerce to discuss the heroin epidemic and recovery efforts in Oxford County.

In attendance were Amy Bernard of Newry, Brad Plante of Poland, Ed Barrett of Lewiston, Christine Landes of Bethel, Kristal Flagg of Livermore Falls, Dick Davis of Farmington, Carlo Puiia of Dixfield and Tony Ward of Sabattus, along with Taylor Owens of Healthy Oxford Hills.

Gallant and Owens are members of the Western Maine Addiction Recovery Initiative, formerly known as the Western Maine Addiction Task Force, who are helping community members overcome their addictions.

The sheriff read an email a Bethel woman addressed to one of his deputies, who administered Narcan.

“Because of you, I get to live another day,” the woman wrote. “Because of you, my beautiful little girl has her mom. Thank you for saving my life.”

“This is a 23-year-old girl and she is alive today because we had enough sense to put Narcan in our cruisers and look beyond the drug and see the person who needs help,” Gallant said.

The previous weekend, Gallant said Rumford had three opioid overdoses.

“All three were brought back by Narcan,” he said.

And three weeks ago, Gallant responded to a man who collapsed behind a dumpster at a Bethel business and administered Narcan.

Plante asked if there was any truth to the assertion that people get high because they know Narcan will be there to save them if they overdose.

“That is the last thing on an opiate-addicted person’s mind,” Gallant answered. “There is no difference between an alcoholic and an opiate-addicted person. They’re not drinking that booze to get drunk, they don’t want to get sick. … This isn’t about being high anymore.”

Owens spoke about the initiative’s recent Western Maine Recovery Rally, where roughly 120 participants walked from Norway to Paris, had a barbecue and heard from a panel of recovery community speakers.

Part of the initiative is Project SaveME where people who are battling addiction can go to any of the county’s police stations or the emergency rooms at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway or Rumford Hospital and ask for help. They turn in their drugs and/or paraphernalia and are paired with a recovery coach — who’s received 40 hours of training — to help guide this person throughout their recovery journey.

Barrett asked how many people have asked for help.

Gallant replied around 15, but Owens noted there is a lot of buzz in the community surrounding their efforts.

“Even though we haven’t had crazy numbers of people coming in, the amount of people calling and asking are in the hundreds,” Owens said. “It is still affecting a lot of people. We’ve been able to place every single person who’s come in. We always place them in a local option unless they ask otherwise.”

Another positive for the initiative is C.N. Brown, which employs people who are in recovery. They have to be sober for six months and have a recommendation from their counselor, Owens said. She interns at counseling agencies and time and time again she hears from patients that “it’s so hard to find a job.” Owens hopes other businesses are willing to team up with the initiative as they’ve had good success with C.N. Brown.

“Narcan is a part of the solution but I think the real solution is how do you get off of this?” Bernard of Newry asked. “What’s the plan?” 

“It is really not a one-size-fits-all,” Owens said. “For each person it’s going to be completely different,” adding that recovery can take the forms of counseling, in patient, outpatient and/or day treatment, 12 steps, cold turkey and medicated-assisted treatment.

“Our whole idea and purpose is to create a recovery-ready community,” she said. “People are ashamed already that they’re using drugs and (engaging in) illegal activity.”

Barrett agreed with Owens that stigmas need to be eliminated.

“I think that is one of the biggest obstacles is our whole cultural attitudes toward addiction: ‘It’s your fault, you got yourself into this,’” he said.

Gallant said Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, are working on getting the federal government to change its ruling on insurance coverage. Currently, if a person with government-run insurance enters the Oxford County Jail, they are not covered, leaving the county to foot the medical bill if treatment is needed.

Other things the initiative is working on is planning another forum soon, hosting more educational events and looking into the state task force’s recommendations.

Anyone wishing to join the Western Maine Addiction Recovery Initiative or start their own recovery initiative can contact Gallant at 207-743-9554 or [email protected] or Owens at 207-739-6222 or [email protected]

[email protected]

Maine drug statistics

From the Office of Maine Attorney General

2014: 208 overdose fatalities

2015: 272 overdose fatalities

2016 from January to June 30: 189 overdose fatalities

Equates to a 50 percent increase from last year

2016 from June to January: projected 378 overdose fatalities

42 average age of fatalities 

60 percent of people addicted to opiates started with a prescription


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