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Recent surge in overdoses in Cumberland County follows 2020 trend

In the first nine months of 2020, Maine was on track to exceed the record number of overdose deaths in a single year.

During our 6 p.m. broadcast on Tuesday, we mistakenly said the population of Standish is 219. The population, as of the 2010 census was 9,874. According to the Standish Town Hall website, the population as of 2017 was 10,091.

The Cumberland County Sheriff's Office is investigating six fatal overdoses that occurred in the Sebago Lake Region in less than two months.

It's a significant uptick in cases. In the same period of time in the previous year in the area, there was only one overdose death.

"The most disturbing concern is that five of those overdose deaths occurred within the last three weeks. Additionally, four of the six fatal overdoses have occurred in the town of Standish," Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said. 

Joyce said the Standish trend could indicate a single batch of drugs and the same distributors are responsible, but it's still unclear and the department is still investigating. 

Police are doing what they can. In the last two months in Cumberland County, 28 individuals have been arrested and charged with various drug charges. Police also seized 11 different types of drugs including narcotics, stimulants, and other dangerous drugs.

However, Sheriff Joyce said even major drug busts are not enough to solve this crisis. 

"We are not going to arrest our way out of this issue," Joyce said. 

RELATED: Lakes Region sees 6 fatal overdoses in less than 2 months, including 4 in Standish alone

It's not only a problem in Cumberland County, according to the Maine Attorney General's Office. The state was on track last year to set a state record for drug-related deaths. 

In the first nine months of 2020, 380 people in Maine died from drug overdoses. It's the same number as in all of 2019. 

Joyce said the reason why we're seeing more overdose deaths may be, in part, due to bad batches of drugs on the market.

"We've got individuals who are selling stuff and God knows what's in it, God knows what it's mixed with," Joyce said. 

It also appears more people are intentionally using several different drugs at the same time.

Chief Government Affairs Officer for Maine Health Katie Fullam Harris said her group has seen a rise in "polysubstance" use.

Furthermore, Fullam Harris said she's not surprised to see an overdose surge during a year defined by social isolation. "Addiction is a disease of isolation."

The solution, said Fullam Harris, is to first tackle the stigma of drug addiction. 

"We need to continue as a society to push back and be open about behavioral health problems."

Sheriff Joyce agrees and said he hopes people seek help. "We can do a lot of enforcement," Joyce said, "but that still doesn't take away the root cause. The root cause is identifying the people in need and getting them help if they're willing to take that."

RELATED: Hancock County officials say peer recovery addiction coaching to return to county jail months after sheriff suspended them


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