AUGUSTA — A community forum on opiates, including a presentation by a Skowhegan man who lost his son to a heroin overdose, is planned for Monday to seek ways to address what officials say is a growing opiate abuse epidemic.

State officials have said overdose deaths from heroin or fentanyl were on pace in 2015 to surpass greatly 2014’s record 100 deaths from those two substances.

“We are currently in a crisis with opiates. We have a lot of people dying,” said Holly Kiidli, substance abuse coordinator for Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, which is one of several local organizations which came together to plan the forum, which is from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Monday in the food court at Cony High School. “This is just the start of us really working together as a community to fight this.”

In Augusta alone, the Augusta Fire Department responded to 50 heroin overdoses in 2015, up from 26 in 2014 and just six in 2007, according to Fire Chief Roger Audette. He said it is not uncommon to have multiple heroin overdoses at the same time, sometimes in the same apartment, building or neighborhood, as bad batches of the drug come into the area.

Joanne Joy, executive director of Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, said in a news release the growing problem of illegal drug use and trafficking threatens the health and safety of all citizens. She said by bringing together a panel of experts from law enforcement, fire departments and community leaders, the forum will help to fight the problem as a community.

Henry “Skip” Gates, of Skowhegan, will start the forum. Gates’ son, Will Gates, a championship skier studying molecular genetics at the University of Vermont, died of a heroin overdose in 2009.

Gates retired from his teaching job at Lawrence High School in 2011, he has said, to devote his life to volunteering to educate middle and high school students about the dangers of opiates. His family’s story is featured prominently in the documentary “The Opiate Effect.”

Gates will also give similar presentations to Cony students during the school day Monday.

Laura Hamilton, an at-large member of the Augusta Board of Education, said board members heard Gates’ presentation at a conference of school officials, and they hope bringing him to Augusta will be helpful.

While the in-school sessions are for students, the community forum in the evening is open to anyone.

“It was a very powerful presentation, and we’re hoping it will help us begin to come together as a community” to address the problem, Hamilton told city councilors at a recent meeting. “Everyone is welcome at this forum. You don’t have to have children in the school system.”

Participants in a question-and-answer session at the forum are scheduled to include Augusta police Chief Robert Gregoire; Augusta fire Lt. Jason Mills; Kennebec County interim Sheriff Ryan Reardon; Mayor David Rollins; Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta; Kennebec and Somerset counties District Attorney Maeghan Maloney; MaineGeneral Medical Center Harm Reduction Grants Program Manager Laura St. John; Healthy Communities of the Capital Area Executive Director Joanne Joy; Darren Ripley, of Maine Alliance for Addiction and Recovery; and Augusta Schools Superintendent James Anastasio.

Rollins said he hopes the forum can help inform the community and that participants and leaders can come up with some “actionable responses and next steps” to address the problem. He urged people to attend and take what action they can to help address the opiate epidemic.

“It’s tragic, and it’s going to continue to get worse,” Rollins said. “You can’t sit back and depend on the police alone to fix it. This has to become a community objective. It has to be a multifaceted approach, including treatment, not just enforcement.”

Organizations involved in planning the forum also include the Rotary Club of Augusta, Augusta schools, Kennebec Valley YMCA, Augusta police and fire departments, Spurwink and Kennebec Behavioral Health.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.