GARDINER — More than 100 people turned out Tuesday night at a community forum to discuss the problem of heroin and opiate addiction in the Gardiner area.

Police Chief James Toman left no doubt of its severity.

So far this year, Gardiner’s police have covered five deaths from drug overdoses — one woman and four men, ages 29 to 37.

“The number could be higher if not for (Fire and Ambulance) Chief Al Nelson’s crew, who have successfully resuscitated at least three people in Gardiner,” Toman said. “This is not just a Gardiner issue. This is a New England issue. This is a United States issue. This is an everywhere issue.”

Then he told those gathered at tables in the Gardiner Regional Middle School cafeteria that a routine traffic stop on Brunswick Avenue two weeks ago by Officer Sam Quintana revealed “three guns, $11,000 in cash, over 70 needles, heroin and cocaine.”

The forum was sponsored by the Rotary Club of Gardiner in conjunction with Healthy Communities of the Capital Area and the city of Gardiner, and came after Gardiner Councilor Pat Hart was approached by a city resident concerned about opiate use in her neighborhood.

Hart brought her own set of statistics, garnered from the Maine 2015 Shared Community Health Needs Assessment that was released recently.

The Maine Prescription Monitoring Data says “335,990 Mainers had at least one prescription for an opioid in 2014 (one out of four Mainers),” and the Maine Quality Counts data shows that 208 people in Maine died from drug overdoses in 2014, up 18 percent from the previous year.

“In Kennebec County, the death rate is higher than the nation and the state,” Hart said.

Nelson said Gardiner crews responded to 53 drug overdoses in the nine communities it serves; 23 of those overdoses were in Gardiner.

He said rescue crews used Narcan 17 times. Narcan is an injectable prescription medication that can reverse an opiate overdose.

“Narcan is given when they can’t talk for themselves and they’re not breathing,” Nelson said, adding that those revived then must get additional medical treatment. “You can’t give the Narcan and walk away.”

Toman spoke of the Interstate 295, the Maine Turnpike and U.S. Route 201 corridors that run through Gardiner as being used to bring drugs into Maine.

“We can’t arrest our way out of this issue,” he said. “It’s too big.”

He asked for the public’s help.

“If you see something suspicious happening, you need to say something — not the following day, not next week, but then and there,” Toman said. “The information that you provide may be the break that we need to bring our investigation to an end. Our citizens are our eyes and our ears and our force multipliers.” He told them to call 624-7076 to reach Gardiner officers.

Toman also urged people to clear out their unused, unwanted prescription drugs and take them to the collection box in the Gardiner Police Department. If the building is closed, he said, use the yellow phone outside to contact an on-duty officer to come and open the office.

He and other speakers, including Rep. Gay Grant, D-Gardiner, bemoaned the lack of resources for treatment.

Superintendent Patricia Hopkins, of Maine School Administrative District 11, Gardiner area schools, talked of the significant increase in the numbers of students in the elementary school who are affected by drug and alcohol use in their immediate family.

One 230-student elementary school had five students who lost a family member to a drug overdose, and 19 students have parents with substance abuse problems. Other students are living with other relatives or placed with state agencies because of family violence and substance abuse, she said.

Hopkins also said in another elementary school, of 200 students, 12 percent of them are affected by the use of drugs and alcohol in the immediate family.

She talked of one 6-year-old student whose family has substance abuse issues. The student dressed his 4-year-old sister so she could get picked up for her school and then began walking more than a mile to his own elementary school where he could be safe and get a meal.

“This is what some of these kiddos are dealing with in their home,” she said. “We need to do more in terms of education. We need to be part of the solution.”

Ingrid Stanchfield, chief professional officer of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Gardiner, which provides child care programs as well as programs for school-age children up to their teenage years, said that group is called on to provide basic needs for children whose parents are dealing with addiction.

She talked of grandparents worrying about their addicted adult children while trying to be parents to their grandchildren.

“That’s the stuff that I never dreamed I would be involved with,” she said.

Nicole Rau, health educator at MaineGeneral Medical Center talked of the needle exchange program as one way to keep addicts safe and healthy until they can achieve recovery. She said one person using the exchange told her to tell those at the Gardiner meeting that the people using the needle exchange want treatment.

“They want treatment and they cannot find it,” she said.

Joanne Joy, executive director of the Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, said treatment facilities are full. “We know a lot of people are seeking treatment and treatment is not out there,” she said.

She also talked of too few substance abuse counselors to meet the need.

“We have to find a way as a community,” Joy said, encouraging those attending the forum to begin discussions in their small groups to share stories and find out what they could do to help.

Karen Tucker, president of the Rotary Club of Gardiner, said people could “clean out grandma’s medicine,” attend a class or join a committee or have another forum more in depth.

“What’s the part that we can play?” she asked.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams

 

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