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Portland's unsheltered people react to string of heroin overdoses

Five people were treated for overdoses on Sunday from laced heroin, according to police, who increased surveillance to track drug trafficking.

PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland Police Department announced Monday it arrested a man experiencing homelessness who they say was trafficking drugs. He was arrested on Sunday with 20 grams of fentanyl, meth, and more than $1,700.

While the man isn't known to be connected with this weekend's string of heroin overdoses, police credited heightened surveillance in the wake of overdoses.

Kathleen Johnson has experienced homelessness in Portland for seven years, she told NEWSCENTER Maine. Johnson said she knows people who use heroin every day.

"I think it's the addiction there. You get sick if you don't have it. People use, and they have to self-medicate," Johnson said. "I found out I had fentanyl on my system, so it could be in anything. It could be in your cocaine, the spice you smoke."

Johnson said she was warned about the heroin. Police said it was laced with a tranquilizer found in veterinary practice. Police added overdoses from tranquilizers cannot be treated with Narcan.

Edmundo Encinas, who manages a men's sober house in Portland, Park Place, said he experienced homelessness before and struggled with addiction.

Encinas said drugs cut with dangerous materials are common.

"This community is all cut drugs. We all suffer from addiction. They know people are addicted and are going to buy regardless. They don't have to watch people around them suffer and die from this addiction," Encinas said. 

Encinas added he joined Park Place in 2020 during his sobriety. He said many of the people he knew experiencing homelessness years ago are no longer alive and that holidays like the Fourth of July can be challenging for people who don't have families to visit.

That's why he was out delivering meals to unsheltered people on Monday.

"It is a more vulnerable time for some," Encinas said. "Through our recovery programs, like for me, New Year's was a time I would normally go out and celebrate. And even today I still maintain to do this and give back to the community."

Narcan is available in pharmacies without a prescription. You can also request training or access to Narcan by going to the City of Portland's website.

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