Mary Ellen Aldrich, Community Editor
Across Cumberland County, the state of Maine and the United States, opioid use and overdose is increasing. According to the Office of the Maine Attorney General, in 2016 opioid overdose claimed more than one life each day in Maine, resulting in a total of 378 lives lost to opioids.
“It’s an epidemic,” said Ash Havlin, a senior sociology and psychology major. “People are dying every day in Maine. And it doesn’t make sense. There’s no reason for it. People shouldn’t be dying, they should be receiving treatment.”
The Maine Medical Association refers to Maine’s rise in opioid use as an epidemic and a crisis that needs to be addressed. Opioids are on the rise in Maine, especially synthetic opioids. Synthetically made opioids are stronger and more unpredictable than natural opioids. According to a report published by the Maine DHHS State Epidemiology Outcomes Workgroup, Maine’s Central and Cumberland districts have seen some of the highest rates of drug-related overdose deaths in the state.
The Recovery Oriented Campus Center (ROCC), located in the Sullivan Gym on USM’s Portland campus, is trying to reduce the incidence of opioid overdose in the USM and Portland communities. Steps it has taken towards the goal of community healing include providing education and a safe and supportive environment to foster recovery and a sense of community.
On March 3, the ROCC hosted a training session to educate participants in the prevention of, identification of and emergency response to opioid overdose. The hour-and-a-half training was led by Zoe Odlin-Platz, a community health promotion specialist who works for the Portland Needle Exchange. Odlin-Platz discussed the importance of such training and how it relates to the current drug problems Portland and other parts of Maine are experiencing.
“We’re seeing a lot of really strong product, a lot of inconsistent product and there are a lot of people using [it],” Odlin-Platz said. “I think the internet plays a huge role in what’s available, and we’re seeing substances that we’ve never seen before. We don’t even really know what they are but we know that they’re here.”
In addition to providing Narcan, or Naloxone, training at the ROCC, the Portland Needle Exchange has facilitated training for USM nursing students and the Health and Counseling Center on the Gorham campus. According to ROCC members, training the community to correctly handle the situation of an overdose can help save lives and reduce the lasting trauma that results from being a bystander unable to assist. Knowing what to do and how to help doesn’t remove all fear and trauma, but it does lessen it and could save a life.
“I think it [Narcan training] is important because it is the reality that we live in now, people do overdose,” Havlin said. “I think that it’s important that we sustain people’s lives as long as possible so that we can provide people with treatment and give them the opportunity to live a life in recovery.”
Naloxone can make a difference in the number of deaths versus the number of survivors. According to the Maine DHHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health reports, 824 people required administration of naloxone by EMS due to opioid overdose in 2014.
“This type of training is important because it’s saving lives,” said Katie Tomer, a junior health sciences major. “I think that’s one of the biggest factors of importance, not only on college campuses but nationwide.”
Andrew Kiezulas, a senior chemistry major, sees the training as something important not only for someone experiencing overdose, but for the bystander as well.
“Feeling helpless,” Kiezulas said, “is far more damning than being in that situation and having something that you can do.”