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Portland sees major spike in overdoses, police say

Between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day, there was a 133% increase in overdoses compared to the same time period in 2020, police say.

PORTLAND, Maine — Portland saw a 133% increase over 2020 in the number of overdoses for the period between Christmas Eve and New Year's Day. 

There were 23 overdoses, including two fatalities, compared to 2020, with nine overdoses and zero deaths.

Robert Maurais has been there.

"I didn't have my up and down days or anything. I was pretty leveled out. I don't know. I just felt normal for the first time," Maurais said.

He's been clean for about five years, but it took more than one overdose to get the help he needed.

"I don't remember it at all," he said. "I just woke up in the bathroom, and I just had no clue. I didn't know what happened or what was going on. I just knew that was it. I had enough."

He found Groups Recover Together, where he has been getting treatment for years.

Joan Ingram is the Maine state director of Groups Recover Together. She said it's not uncommon for people to use drugs around the holidays.

"Holidays are a time where a lot of trauma comes up. There are a lot of triggers," she said.

"I think the big change is availability," said Scott Pelletier, commander for the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. "Availability of particularly fentanyl or fentanyl-infused drugs is astronomical."

Experts said these overdoses are likely due to the prevalence of fentanyl.

"Fentanyl is a really cheap, powerful opioid that is now more commonly found in substances," said Kerri Barton of the Portland Public Health Division.

She added that people who are using drugs have to want to get help for it to work, but resources are available for those who aren't ready yet.

"It's extremely important that if you're not quite sure what you're taking to have Narcan on hand just in case," Barton said.

People using drugs can get fentanyl testing strips at the South Portland Police Department. They can visit the Portland Public Health Division to get Narcan. 

There is a 24/7 hotline called Never Use Alone where someone will stay on the phone with people if they're not using with friends and family. That number is 800-484-3731.

Groups Recover Together has offices all over the state and the national substance abuse hotline is 1-800-662-4357.

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