Heroin Use in Maine Continues to Expand

On December 1st, 2015, Carpe Diem asked 208 teens, 18 years or younger, using Snapchat, texting, personal interviews, and Facebook. …In Your Opinion, What is the Biggest Threat to Our Generation: Technology, Terrorism, Global Warming, Infectious Disease, or Addiction. Out of the 208 teens, 48 teens responded that addiction is the biggest threat to our society.

At the end of January, WMTW, reported the stats for heroin arrests in 2015. Statewide there were 265 arrests. Bangor was the highest with 29 arrests. Closely followed by Augusta with 22, then Sanford with 20, Portland with 19, and lastly Lewiston with 17.

In recent months, Maine has been facing and is beginning to respond to a new epidemic. While oxycontin and other prescription opiates were top news in recent years, the cost of prescription drugs skyrocketed, causing heroin to become a cheaper alternative.  WMTW posted a year-over-year graph showing the drastic changes in heroin arrests in York county. It started out slow in 2012 with 14 heroin arrests, in 2013 there was 17 arrests, in 2014 there were 38 arrests and then 2015 with 60 arrests.

“Heroin is becoming the cheaper replacement for opiates as states continue to crack down on the ‘pill mills’ making the cost of opiates too expensive,” stated an article from Recovery Connection.

The state of Maine is seeing a decline in use of prescription drugs, but seemingly a corresponding outbreak in the use of heroin. Heroin, which is refined from the opium morphine, is made from resin of poppy plants. The milky, sap-like opium is first removed from the pod of the poppy flower. Originally used to make morphine and other opioids, it can also be refined to make different types of heroin.

A girl, who graduated in 2013 and currently lives and works in Saco, wanted to keep identity private, but has seen the epidemic first hand while watching one of her long-term friends, who she graduated with, suffer from the effects of heroin.

“It’s sad to see him doing that to himself,” she said. “He’s very self-destructive, unfortunately. I don’t think he’ll live past the age of 25. It’s sad to see himself and how much he’s changed.”

Heroin is transmitted to the brain by shooting it, snorting it, or smoking it.  When heroin is ingested into the body it stimulates the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, causing a pleasure sensation. After the initial effects, the user’s experience drowsiness for several hours. Brain function is then clouded and breathing is severely slowed. Slowed breathing can cause a coma or even death. Heroin is often used as an “escape drug.” Meaning people use it to lessen pain while depressed or anxious.

It is easy to get addicted to heroin through prescription painkillers.

“A productive, normal member of society, somebody who has a job, gets hurt or they get surgery or something happens and then they are prescribed prescription painkillers by their doctors,” said Officer Ted Gagnon. “They take the opiates, because it was prescribed by their doctor, and people always assume that what their doctors says is gospel.”

The heroin “rush” causes users to experience a surge of euphoria lasting one to two minutes after injecting it. Many people use heroin to get high one or two times, most don’t expect to get addicted.

Senior Megan Yudaken, lost a good friend last November, who was only 22, to an overdose of heroin. She believes that the ways people get addicted are varied. “There could be lots of reasons, including going down the wrong path, being at the wrong place at the wrong time, wanting to experiment a little too much, thinking you’re invincible. There can be so many different factors, and honestly I don’t think anyone actually thinks that [becoming addicted] could happen to them. No one imagines that they could get addicted and overdose and die. No one thinks about that the first time they shoot up.”

Identifying as an addict is not easy. There are so many factors to take in. With the ongoing issues involving heroin use Maine has decided to step up and prevent the problem from growing. While using heroin, the body craves the drug, causing one to become easily addicted. When an addict is trying to stop their body experiences withdrawal symptoms. Without professional help it is very hard for someone to overcome these symptoms.

“Operation Hope in Scarborough is where someone can go if they are an addict and want help,” said Gagnon. “They can go, turn in their drugs, no questions asked and then get help in finding a treatment plan.”

“There is a law that protects people who would like to seek drug treatment,” said social worker Margaret Cumbie. “So I don’t have to contact parents. People are able to seek drug treatments without anybody knowing and minors do not have to seek parental consent.”

Thornton Academy is a safe place for students who are suffering or watching a family member or friend suffering from addiction and students dealing with drug related issues are encouraged to reach out.

Resources at School include:

Social Service: Margaret Cumbie margaret.cumbie@thorntonacademy.org

Nurse: Danielle Tabor danielle.tabor@thorntonacademy.org

Resource Officer: Ofc. Ted Gagnon ted.gagnon@thorntonacademy.org

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