AUGUSTA — Jordan Ellis couldn’t sleep. Listening to his uncle, the career military man, all of a sudden Ellis had a vision of his future, the one he’d been chasing without ever getting closer. 

Ellis believed the Army would bring it all within reach. He couldn’t wait to tell his mom and sister.

“Finally we said, ‘You have to get up at 3 tomorrow morning. You have to go to bed,'” his mom, Leslie Ellis, recalled Wednesday. “He came into our room and gave Amber and I both a kiss and said, ‘I love you guys.'”

Less than 24 hours later, 19-year-old Jordan Ellis was dead. He died, police and Leslie Ellis believe, of a heroin overdose. 

“The last text I got at 6:35 p.m. was, ‘I’m on my way home,'” Leslie said. 

Jordan’s final moments were spent inside the bathroom at the Bangor Street McDonald’s restaurant, where a customer found him shortly after 7 p.m. Friday. Jordan apparently went into the bathroom to take the drug after working a 14-hour shift at PFG Northcenter, a food distributor. 

Ellis’s was one of two suspected drug overdoses Friday night, according to Augusta Police Deputy Chief Jared Mills. The second person, whom Mills wouldn’t identify but said is expected to recover, was found earlier in the evening at Williams Playground, which abuts the parking lot of the McDonald’s. 

Police are investigating whether there is a connection between the two ODs, Mills said.

The overdoses are the latest signs that heroin has become the drug of choice for those addicted to opiates in recent months, police said.

Mills said the relatively low street price for the drug — about $25 per dose in Maine — is causing a market shift away from illegal use of prescription drugs, like Oxycontin and hydrocodone, which sparked a record 56 pharmacy robberies statewide in 2012.

There have been five pharmacy robberies in Maine this year, according to the Department of Public Safety. At this time last year at least 20 pharmacy robberies had been reported.  

“We’re not having pharmacy robberies anymore. How come?” Mills said. “You’re going to go after the one that’s easier to get at the time. That’s the trend we’re seeing now, that there’s more heroin now than prescription medication.” 

The state medical examiner is awaiting test results before making a final determination on the cause of Ellis’ death, said Mills, but “we suspect it is a heroin overdose.”

Ellis — whose funeral was scheduled Thursday — loved racing dirt bikes with his father and played basketball for Cony High School before graduating in 2012.

His first love was baseball, Leslie said. 

“We were always there to support him,” she said. “He always loved to have his family around.” 

Jordan Ellis lived in Whitefield with Leslie and his sister, Amber Ellis.

His father, Keith Ellis, lives in Augusta, and Jordan often stayed in Augusta. Leslie and Amber recently got a place in the city, and Jordan was so excited that he made his family sleep there the first night, even though there were no beds. 

“He hung in town a lot, which I now regret,” Leslie said. “I never saw that really bad part of him.” 

New drug of choice

While there is little data to support the claim that heroin use has seen a marked increase, Mills and Kennebec County Sheriff Randall Liberty agree there has been a spike in heroin-related investigations during the past 12 to 18 months. 

There is other anecdotal evidence to support that claim, including:

• Last month, Portland police said five peopled suffered heroin overdoses, including one fatality, within a 24-hour span. Rescue workers there were called to 14 unintentional drug overdoses in April that were not fatal and three in which the people died.  

• In April, three Farmingdale residents and a New York man were jailed on trafficking charges after Kennebec County sheriff’s deputies and agents with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency reportedly found 116 grams of heroin inside a Hill Street apartment in what Liberty called one of the largest heroin busts ever in central Maine. 

• Admissions for heroin-related treatment across the state rose from 1,908 in 2011– or 159 per month — to 2,227, or 185.6 per month, in 2012, according the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. The number of admissions has continued at an average pace of 184.2 per month over the first five months of this year. 

Liberty said at any given time, jail officials have a half-dozen new inmates under medical supervision while they experience heroin withdrawal. 

“Heroin is the drug of choice,” Liberty said. “It’s the ugliest drug.” 

The price has made it the drug of choice, he said. Dealers can buy the heroin for about $3 per dose in southern New England and sell it Maine for $25. 

That’s a bargain compared to Oxycontin, the street value of which has risen from around $1 per milligram to $80 as the pills have become harder to find on the illicit market. 

“There’s a huge market here,” Liberty said.

Neal Miner, substance abuse prevention director for Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, said the spike in heroin use can be at least partly attributed to legislators’ decision last year to cap MaineCare coverage for Methadone and Suboxone.

The state will now only pay for the drugs, which are used to reduce the effects of heroin withdrawal, under certain conditions. 

“My sense is, from the prevention perspective, to the extent you make Suboxone and other treatment less available you will have people turn to heroin,” Miner said. “You’re going to have people using these illegal alternatives to cope with their addiction.” 

The speed at which heroin fosters those addictions helps distinguish it as one of the “ugliest” drugs, Liberty said. As the cravings grow, the user’s body builds up a tolerance, which requires more of the drug to produce the desired high. The potential for overdose grows as users increase dosages. 

The drug arrives in Maine from a number of suppliers, which means there is no uniform purity and no way of knowing the potency of the dose. 

“You have no idea what the purity level is or what it’s been cut with,” Liberty said. 

Mills said overdose symptoms, which include slow or no breathing and a weak pulse, can take effect within minutes. 

Mills said Augusta police have responded to 22 overdose calls since the beginning of the year. That number includes those who intentionally took many pills and others who accidentally took too many legally prescribed drugs. 

But Mills said when there is an accidental overdose of an illegally used drug, it quite often involves heroin. 

“This area has a significant drug problem,” Mills said. “Drug issues are as bad as they’ve ever been and they certainly aren’t improving.” 

A future gone

Drug abuse, particularly heroin abuse, are at the heart of a number of other crimes, particularly burglaries.

“The craving and addiction is so strong you’ll do anything for it,” Liberty said. “Family and morals go out the window.”

Ellis all but admitted as much in January when Augusta police arrested him after he reportedly broke into a Blair Road home. Ellis told police he broke into the home to find money to support his drug habit, according to an affidavit filed in Kennebec County Superior Court by Augusta Police Officer Eric Lloyd.

“Jordan said he is addicted to 30 mg Oxycontin and needs money for pills,” Lloyd wrote. 

Ellis said he left without taking anything because he felt guilty about breaking into someone’s home. When Lloyd later found a Dick’s Sporting Goods gift card in his cruiser, Ellis admitted he’d take it. 

“He did not want to be like that,” Leslie Ellis said. “I didn’t see that side of him. He hid it so well.” 

Miner said those in the midst of an addiction often don’t grasp the danger they are in or the consequences of their actions. 

“When you’re inside addiction its really hard to understand the full impact of it,” he said. “They may not be lying. They may be confused.” 

He said parents must keep talking to their children and trust, but verify what they say by talking to their child’s teachers, coaches and parents of their friends. 

“You have an ongoing conversation with everybody that’s touched by this issue so you get all the information you need,” Miner said. 

Leslie said Jordan shared his hopes and dreams with her, but never told her about his struggle with drugs. 

“He told me he struggled with life,” she said. “He was very emotional. Everything meant a great deal to him. It wasn’t something he could shrug off.’ 

Jordan saw a drug counselor after his January arrest, but Leslie said he gave it less than a whole-hearted try. She believes her son started taking heroin after his arrest because it was cheaper than the prescription drugs. 

She doubts he knew anything about purity levels or the danger of suffering an overdose. 

“People who deal this will prey on people who are easily influenced,” she said. “They’ll go where groups of kids hang out.”

Leslie said she tried to get her son to stop smoking marijuana, but he didn’t see a reson to stop. Jordan always assured his mother he would never try heroin.  

“I wish he would have told me,” Leslie said. “I wish he would have said, ‘Mom, I need help,’ or, ‘Mom, I can’t get away from this.’ I think he was trying on his own to handle it. So many times Jordan said so sincerely, ‘Mom, I’m making good decisions now. You don’t have to worry.’ He hid it so well.” 

Jordan loved to sing country songs. He would talk with anyone about the deepest matters of life. He always had to get a hug from his friends’ families when he saw them and could not go to bed at night without a kiss from his mom and sister. 

His mother can’t help but wonder what he might have become if he had sought help.

“I want kids to know what this does to their family and parents,” Leslie Ellis said. “I don’t want them to think they can do it once and they won’t do it again. I don’t want them to try it. It could kill you. I don’t want them to take that chance. I have to live the rest of my life unhappy. I have a daughter who has the rest of her life without her only brother.” 

Craig Crosby — 621-5642
[email protected]

 

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