The number of overdoses in Maine’s southernmost county has risen sharply, and the heroin users are younger now.

Suzanne Michaud remembers vividly the night last November when two police officers showed up at her home in Kennebunk to tell her that her daughter had been found dead of a suspected drug overdose.

“What hurts the most was I wasn’t there to save her,” Michaud, a retired schoolteacher, said through tears. “I was robbed of the opportunity to be there. I could not hold her hand and say I loved her, and say, ‘Please forgive me’ and ‘I forgive you.’ ”

The death of Sonya Centofanti, 48, is one example of the painful and far-reaching impact of drug addiction – specifically heroin abuse – that has become what some authorities say should be York County law enforcement’s first priority.

“Maine is under siege,” said York County Sheriff William King, noting that many of the people arrested in York County in recent months for heroin trafficking are coming from New York, Hartford, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

“I would call it our No. 1 priority in law enforcement because so many other crimes stem from addiction,” King said. “Addicts will steal from anybody to get an opiate to quench their thirst for it.”

Drug agents say the heroin problem is statewide and not unique to York County, but the state’s southernmost county is seeing its share of the consequences.


York County was second in the state behind only Cumberland County in the average number of overdose deaths each year from 2011 to 2013, with 21.

In response, a group of York County agencies has formed an Opiate Task Force, which includes officials from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, the Maine Attorney General’s Office and health care providers. They organized a forum last month in Wells on the heroin problem, with presentations by people affected by addiction, and a goal to raise awareness about the problem in the broader community, King said. Another forum is planned for Biddeford later this year.

The sheriff’s office also is planning a presentation at York County Community College’s Eggs and Issues breakfast May 8.

In Biddeford, the county’s largest city, the number of times rescue workers have used the medicine Narcan to reverse the effects of an opiate overdose has been growing and the age of the people using it has declined over the past five years.

In 2010, eight patients with an average age of 46 received Narcan. By 2014, 53 patients had received doses of Narcan, with an average age that dropped to 35.

In just the first three months of 2015, Biddeford has already seen 20 patients who received Narcan.

“In late 2013 and 2014 we really started noticing the increases,” Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Duross said. “There were three to four overdoses per day sometimes.”

King noted that the York County Jail has also seen “an alarming number” of inmates incarcerated because of heroin possession or because they have committed crimes to obtain heroin.


In response, the county has beefed up its relationship with Maine Behavioral Healthcare, a consortium of mental health providers, which now has an office at the jail in Alfred staffed by one full-time and two part-time workers. They lead group meetings for people trying to recover from addiction, offer counseling and set up treatment plans for when inmates are released.

Alan Bean Burpee, a licensed clinical social worker with Maine Behavioral Healthcare who oversees the jail program, said a drop in heroin prices has increased the number of people seeking treatment for addiction. Jail can be an ideal place to reach them because they are a captive audience – literally – but also because their release from jail is sometimes contingent on enrollment in a treatment program, he said.

The sheriff’s office is working on a goal to improve release planning for inmates – to better their chances of staying clean after they’re released and reduce their chances of returning to jail, King said. They often need support to break away from a drug-influenced lifestyle, and to that end King said he is talking with the homeless shelter in Alfred, which has substance abuse counselors.

Centofanti had been in jail for six months and was released just two days before her death. While in jail, Centofanti – who her mother said was trusting and generous – gave her roommate on the outside her ATM number, asking that he withdraw her money to be put into jail commissary accounts for herself and some friends who also were in jail. But when she got out, she found that almost all of her savings, including six months’ worth of Social Security checks she received as the widow of a veteran, was gone.

Michaud believes that may have led her to move out of her apartment.

Centofanti’s death was the most brutal repercussion of her drug use, a problem that had challenged her family for years and was a byproduct of her mental illness, Michaud said. But the pain didn’t end with her overdose, which included cocaine, depressants and other substances as well as heroin. Michaud later learned that the people who found her daughter’s body emptied her wallet and tried to use her debit card at an ATM before they called police.

Three months after Centofanti’s death, her daughter received a letter from a lawyer. Centofanti’s former landlord was suing her estate for $32,000 to recoup back rent.


Authorities have traced the recent rise in heroin abuse to the popularity of prescription painkillers such as OxyContin. The powerful painkiller used to be readily available and relatively inexpensive because it was commonly prescribed for pain. But as a growing number of people became addicted to prescription painkillers and recreational users learned how to bypass the time-release coating, it became more regulated, more difficult to obtain and much more expensive.

Police agencies say they need to work together to fight back on a problem that does not respect municipal boundaries.

“It’s not a problem just for the sheriff’s office,” said York County Chief Deputy Thomas Baran. “Every town is having the same issues.”