PORTLAND, Maine — Around 200 people gathered to honor the 716 Mainers who lost their lives to overdoses in 2022 on Sunday.
The crowded pews of the First Parish Church in Portland were filled with people who are affected by drug addiction as they listened to the artistic music of Ryan Paige, an organizer who has been sober for several years.
"Every year we go into another year knowing overdose rates are going up," Paige said. "There is a lack of available beds and treatment points in Maine, that number is going to continue to climb."
Paige is referring to the fact that overdoses in Maine have increased every year for the past three years.
The state saw an increase of 85 deaths from 2021 to 2022. Advocates called for more shelter space to get people off the street so they can focus on recovery.
That message fueled the large outpouring of guests at the event in Portland on Sunday, titled "Black Balloon Day," honoring those who lost their lives to drug addiction.
Shay Dufour, who has been outspoken in providing housing and resources to unsheltered Mainers, is formerly unhoused and sober for two and a half years, she said.
"We need to open our eyes ... And let them know it's not just the unhoused, it's happening in our high schools and it's happening in our middle schools," Dufour added.
Dufour said her niece died last spring from an overdose.
"She was a bright, beautiful young woman. She was a mother, she was unhoused, reaching out for help. We need more resources to help people with addiction," Dufour added.
On Sunday, community leaders were honored with awards for their acts of community service, and for those attending who know of someone suffering from addiction, Narcan was available for free along with food and clothes for purchase.
Randy Beard, with Recover 2Gether, a Maine organization for those in recovery, said he battled addiction for decades.
Now, in his '50s, he works to plan events and resources for those in Maine who are looking for recovery sources.
"It's time for Maine to wake up," Beard said. "I was that guy on Preble Street for 20 years ... I overdosed, I was pretty much dead and some random person saved me with Naloxone."
Naloxone is the medical name for Narcan.
If you are interested in Narcan training, you can access it through the Portland Department of Public Health or through Maine Access Points.