PORTLAND, Maine — Dozens gathered in Portland on Wednesday to remember those that have lost their battle with substance use disorder. Aug. 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. Multiple recovery and addiction services were in Post Office Park in Portland to provide resources to the community.
"We all know or love somebody who is struggling with this disease," Brittany Reichman said. Reichman is in long-term recovery, and is now the program manager at the Maine Association of Recovery Residences, a non-profit that manages the ethical and safety standards for recovery residences in the State of Maine.
"Substance use disorder does not discriminate," Reichman said. "I went through a recovery residence five years ago, and it saved my life."
Wednesday's Overdose Awareness Day event was coordinated by Portland Public Health. In addition to community resources speaking with those attendances, Portland Public Health also had the overdose reversal drug 'naloxone' and fentanyl test strips on hand.
"There are a lot of potent, synthetic opioids that are being cut into the drug supply right now, fentanyl in particular," Kerri Barton, harm reduction services program coordinator with Portland Public Health, said. "Unfortunately, it is very, very addictive, and very potent and is the number one cause of overdoses that we're seeing today."
Through June 2022, there have been 329 fatal overdoses in Maine, and 4,922 total overdoses, according to state data. Those are both on track to surpass the total number of overdoses and fatal overdoses from 2021.
"We're saving more people because we've got more and more naloxone out in the community, but the absolute number of people losing their lives still increases year to year," Gordon Smith, Maine's director of opioid response, said.
As Maine continues its surge, Gordon said the state is expanding the number of services available to those with substance use disorder.
Experts encourage anyone struggling to reach out and for loved ones of those battling an addiction to check in.
"I remember being in places when I was in midst of my use where I wasn't ready to reach out, but I didn't want to keep doing what I was doing, and other people extended a hand to me. You know somebody, or somebody you know knows somebody who can help point in the right direction. So, ask for help," Reichman said.