BIDDEFORD — When seacoast poet and artist Cody John LaPlante died of a heroin overdose about two months ago, Beth Wittenberg, an artist who had worked with LaPlante before, was moved to do something about it.

“I wanted to do something that had a little bit of a punch,” Wittenberg, who lives in Rochester, New Hampshire, said Friday. But her first effort ”“ “a graphic piece of street art” painted onto the side of a building in downtown Berwick, which called attention to heroin addiction and provided a phone number for addicts to seek help ”“ was considered an act of vandalism by the town and taken down the same day, she said.

“It was really an act of guerilla street art,” said Wittenberg. “I wanted to do something that was provocative and big and I put it right across from the Town Hall, and they didn’t like that very much. But as a result of that I decided to do this poster project.”

The posters, which have since found their way to Biddeford through the arts-focused nonprofit Engine, are exactly as Wittenberg intended ”“ “very bold and ”¦ kind of in-your-face.”

Stenciled on the large, white sheets of paper are bright, red letters that read, “HEROIN KILLS.” Alongside the simple but powerful message is the dark shadow of a syringe and needle, pointed toward buildings.

“It’s a syringe going into a series of buildings that are representative of our community, and the fact that it’s a community problem, and it’s going to take a community to resolve the issue,” said Wittenberg. Fellow New England artists Bailey Lewton and Erika Carty assisted in making the posters, she said.

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Now, Wittenberg is trying to get as many of the posters, which also include the phone number for the National Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Information Center, onto the streets as she can.

“We want to get some art at the street level and speak to people who actually might have a heroin addiction or is a family member of somebody who has a heroin addiction,” she said.

In addition to the one that sits in Engine’s window at 265 Main St., Tammy Ackerman, executive director of Engine, said Tuesday that a couple of other local businesses have displayed the posters, and she hopes to get more, such as local health organizations, to do the same.

“Some people might feel uncomfortable hanging a poster like that, but what else can you really do?” said Ackerman.

Heart of Biddeford Executive Director Delilah Poupore said in an email Friday that she plans to soon place the poster in HOB’s window at 205 Main St. Poupore said she always supports using art “to convey an important message.”

“There have been families in the news lately who have been deeply affected by heroin,” she said. “This project seems like a good way to raise awareness about a problem that affects people in our community.”

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In Biddeford alone, police have seen a sharp rise in heroin use in the last few years, and law enforcement officials say its representative of a nationwide trend.

Biddeford Police Chief Roger Beaupre told the Journal Tribune in April that the Biddeford Fire Department administered the drug Narcan, which reverses the effects of a heroin overdose, 34 more times in 2014 than it had in 2012 and on patients averaging 9 years younger.

LaPlante was 26 when he died, according to an article posted June 7 on Seacoastonline.com.

Wittenberg said Wrong Brain, a seacoast-based arts organization, will hold an event to celebrate LaPlante’s life on July 26 at Buoy Gallery in Kittery. For more information on the event or to request “Heroin Kills” posters, call Beth Wittenberg at 337-4072.

— Staff Writer Angelo J. Verzoni can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]



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