A man who once led Winthrop police Chief Ryan Frost on a high-speed car chase across the town line into Monmouth recently got back in touch with Frost — and what he said astounded Frost.

The man used to live in the Winthrop area and was arrested multiple times by Winthrop police, including on charges related to heroin use, Frost said Wednesday night during a forum on opiate addiction at Winthrop High School.

But when the man called Frost recently, it was because he had been clean for two years and wanted to help local police stem the tide of drug abuse that is claiming lives across the region, state and country.

“I’m really amazed by that, and I’m glad that he’s doing very, very well,” Frost said.

Frost was one of almost a dozen people who spoke at Wednesday night’s forum, the second such discussion of opiate abuse to be held in Winthrop and organized by the Winthrop Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce.

Frost’s tale about the reformed drug user was one of several hopeful notes struck during the Wednesday night event, which was about an otherwise grim subject.

While the forum featured several speakers from law enforcement backgrounds — including Frost, Kennebec County Sheriff Ryan Reardon and Meaghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec and Somerset counties — attendees also heard from a physician, an ambulance chief, a woman who works with victims of sexual abuse, another woman who tries to prevent substance abuse among children and a man who helps those in recovery.

Their varied backgrounds spoke to the complicated causes and effects of the current epidemic of opiate abuse, which has hit Maine acutely hard.

In 2016, 189 drug overdose deaths had been recorded in Maine as of June 30, a 50 percent increase over the same period in 2015, when there were 126 overdose deaths, according to the Maine attorney general’s office. If the pace continues, there would be 378 overdose deaths this year. In 2015, 272 people died from drug overdoses in Maine.

The Winthrop Ambulance Service, which responds to emergencies in seven towns in western Kennebec County, is on track to respond to 40 drug overdoses this year, John Dovinsky, the service’s director, said on Wednesday. That would mark a 29 percent increase from the 31 drug overdoses the agency responded to in 2015 and a nearly 100 percent increase from the 21 it responded to in 2014.

“Don’t believe that there’s a stigma with this particular drug,” Dovinsky said, mentioning that he’s responded to reports of overdoses in mobile homes and in mansions. “This could be your neighbor, your family member, a well-to-do person in the community.”

Several speakers Wednesday spoke of the complicated reasons people become addicted to opiate drugs such as heroin and prescriptions painkillers.

When Frost received that phone call from a former drug user, he said the man explained that marijuana and alcohol use had led him down the path to opiate abuse.

Joanne Joy, executive director of Healthy Communities of the Capital Area, echoed those remarks, pointing to research that links early abuse of tobacco and other substances with later drug use.

Another speaker, Donna Strickler, executive director of Sexual Assault Crisis & Support Center in Winthrop, said sexual assault victims are three to 10 times more likely to use marijuana, cocaine and other harder drugs than those who have not been victimized, according to research.

She also said that pimps who run sex trafficking operation also rely on the addiction of their victims to prevent them from leaving the trade.

Strickler spoke of the need for people working together across the spectrum of law enforcement, social services, medicine and other fields to prevent the sexual abuse that can exacerbate drug addiction.

Darren Ripley, coordinator of the Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery, offered another hopeful point during his remarks. His organization runs a phone call check-in service for recovering drug users, Ripley said, and of the people they call, 94 percent have reported staying in recovery.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

[email protected]

Twitter: @ceichacker


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