Overdose deaths from heroin or fentanyl this year are on pace to eclipse 2014’s record numbers, the Maine Attorney’s General’s Office said Thursday.

The latest was a woman staying at the Preble Street Resource Center, who died Thursday from a suspected heroin overdose, officials said.

Sixty-three deaths through June 30 resulted from overdoses of either heroin or fentanyl, a synthetic opiate painkiller that when abused produces a high similar to heroin, but is up to 50 times more powerful and more prone to overdose. Drug traffickers often combine fentanyl with heroin.

In 2014, 100 deaths were attributed to the two opiates – 57 from heroin and 43 from fentanyl. Through the first half of this year, 37 deaths were caused by heroin overdoses and 26 from fentanyl, according to data compiled by the state’s chief medical examiner. The state tests for more than 400 drugs when an overdose is the suspected cause of death.

“These numbers are terribly distressing,” Attorney General Janet Mills said in a statement. “The first six months of 2015 show that this crisis continues unabated and we – everyone in the state of Maine – still have a great deal of work to do to get this under control.”

The Preble Street homeless shelter closed for a few hours Thursday morning after the woman’s death, but reopened in the afternoon. Mark Swann, executive director of the Preble Street Resource Center, said staff members tried to save her by giving her Narcan – an antidote for opiates – but it was too late. Police are investigating, but did not have immediate details, said city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin.

“Everyone is shaken up over this and incredibly sad,” Swann said. There have been several overdoses at Preble Street this year, but Thursday was the first fatality, he said.

“People are in the grips of this disease, and there’s very little treatment options …” he said. “People ask us all the time, but we have nowhere to send them to.”

Officials say the heroin epidemic is touching all income levels and demographics.

Public health officials have stepped up pleas for additional treatment options as the heroin crisis continues unabated. The closing of the Mercy Recovery Center in Westbrook exacerbated the situation.

Gov. Paul LePage is hosting a summit on Aug. 26 to address the issue, although some have criticized him for not inviting enough people involved in treating addiction. Three of 22 invited represent the treatment side, and the remainder represent law enforcement.

Dr. Mark Publicker, formerly with Mercy Recovery and now working independently as an addiction specialist, said overdoses related to fentanyl or heroin continue to increase.

“Virtually a day is not going by without a patient telling me they had a friend or someone they know who has overdosed. There’s no reason to believe it isn’t fentanyl alone or fentanyl-laced heroin,” Publicker said. “My patients in recovery are really stricken and saddened by people who had been peers who are overdosing. It’s cousins and brothers.”

Staff Writer David Hench contributed to this report.

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @joelawlorph


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