Heroin blamed in drug deaths

BAR HARBOR — One death here last week is believed to be from a heroin overdose, police said.

Several other deaths in Bar Harbor over the last few weeks also are thought to be heroin-related, according to reports, though no information about any of the individuals has been made public.

And the problem seems to be growing county-wide. There were two suspected heroin overdose deaths in Ellsworth over the weekend. So far this year in Ellsworth, there have been four reported overdoses compared to six for all of last year.

“I think it’s probably important to acknowledge that heroin has never gone away,” Bar Harbor Police Chief Jim Willis said. “We’ve been seeing heroin very regularly in the community. Unfortunately, what we’re seeing now is more potency, more combinations of things.”

Police are seeing cases where the heroin is laced with Fentanyl, a synthetic opiate used as a painkiller, or even some cases where an individual has used straight Fentanyl.

“I read an intelligence report about something that’s 100 times stronger than morphine that’s being mixed in with heroin,” Willis said. “I’m not sure that people buying heroin even know what they’re buying.”

Willis said he agrees with the oft-repeated refrain that communities cannot “arrest their way out of” the problem of opiate addiction.

“We’ve been trying my whole career. And it’s worse now,” he said. “It’s not just a police problem. We’re one tool that our community can use to get rid of this or somehow make it better.”

He sees cooperation between law enforcement agencies, and also with the community and drug treatment and healthcare organizations, as key to making progress. “I get invited to treatment meetings all the time, which is kind of a new way of looking at it.

“Society, from what I can see, is changing the way they view it,” he said. “We’re learning that drug addicts can be anybody. I think by working together, we can make more headway.”

Police can take confidential information from anyone who can offer information about drug investigations, Willis said. “It’s part of that community-solution piece.”

Officers here do not carry Naloxone, an emergency drug that counters the effects of opiate overdose, also known by brand name Narcan. Willis said his department is “beginning to explore” whether to have officers carry it.

Paramedics with the Bar Harbor Fire Department do carry Narcan, Fire Chief Matt Bartlett said, and have for many years. “Anybody with advanced EMT or paramedic licenses can administer it; it has been part of a paramedic’s drug” kit, he said.

Bartlett said EMS patients are protected by privacy laws, but that his agency has used the drug in overdose situations this year. He also said first responders don’t hear about a patient’s health outcome after they are transferred to a hospital.

Last week, the Maine Legislature voted to override Gov. LePage’s veto of LD 1547, a bill to allow Naloxone to be sold without a prescription in some cases.

Help available

It’s important for those struggling with addiction to reach out and ask for help, said Dan Johnson, director of Acadia Family Center in Southwest Harbor.

“People can call us at the center. We have specific programs for addiction, as well as any other mental health issues, which are often co-occurring,” he said. The center can be reached at 244-4012.

Reporter Steve Fuller contributed reporting to this story.


Liz Graves

Liz Graves

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander reporter and editor Liz Graves grew up in California and came to Maine as a schooner sailor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.