GARDINER — Local government and community leaders are inviting Gardiner residents to a forum to discuss the impact escalating illegal drug use is having on the central Maine city.

The increase in illegal drug use, which includes abuse of prescription drugs as well as heroin and fentanyl, has led to a spike in overdoses that require a police or fire response, officials say.

“It’s important for people to know what is being done both in education and treatment,” Gardiner Police Chief James Toman said.

The Gardiner Fire Department has responded to 54 overdoses in the last year, which is up from 38 overdoses in the previous three years combined.

Scheduled for Nov. 10, the forum will include experts from law enforcement, fire and rescue and community leaders to examine the problem and seek input on how to address it.

“Heroin is a small part of the overall drug problem, but it’s the crisis of the moment,” said Joanne Joy, executive director of Healthy Communities of the Capital Area.

Healthy Communities is a coalition that works to improve both the health and quality of life in southern Kennebec County, in part by pulling together people to share information and develop plans to take action.

The seeds for the meeting were sown at a breakfast meeting of the Gardiner Rotary Club. Karen Tucker, the club’s president, said she had learned from City Councilor Pat Hart that a number of residents had expressed concern about drug use in their neighborhoods. The Rotary Club invited city employees and Healthy Communities staff to discuss the issue.

Panelists expected to take part in the forum include Toman, Fire Chief Al Nelson, Ingrid Stanchfield from the Boys and Girls Club, Maine School Administrative District 11 Superintendent Pat Hopkins and Nicole Rau, a health educator at MaineGeneral Health.

Gardiner is not alone in its concerns. Several Maine communities have broadened their responses to the chronic problem of drug abuse. Earlier this year, the Augusta police department announced it was developing a program modeled on a Gloucester, Massachusetts, program that allows people seeking help with their addictions to surrender their drugs and paraphernalia and find an “angel” to help them through rehabilitation.

The police department lobby is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, which will allow addicts to come for help and to be paired with a person who has been trained to help people through a drug treatment program. Training for those recovery coaches is scheduled to take place this month.

In August, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for the Office of the Maine Attorney General, released a survey that showed in the first six months of 2015, 105 people died from a drug overdose in Maine, and of those, 37 were primarily attributable to heroin and 26 to fentanyl. In all of 2014, 208 people died of overdoses with 57 related to heroin and 43 to fentanyl.

In Augusta, police said they responded to 70 drug overdoses in a 12-month period, 19 of which were from the heroin use.

The Gardiner opiate forum is scheduled for 6-7:30 p.m. in the cafeteria at the Gardiner Middle School at 161 Cobbossee Ave. The forum is being sponsored by the Rotary Club of Gardiner along with Healthy Communities of the Capital Area and the city of Gardiner.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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