She liked to travel and pick flowers.

She liked her iced coffee with eight creams and eight packets of artificial sweetener.

And for too long, she liked highly addictive drugs.

Coleen Sheran Singer, formerly Coleen Clark, fatally overdosed on heroin Christmas morning, losing a long battle with addiction. She was 32.

Her obituary, which was published this week by the Bangor Daily News, is the latest obituary in Maine to state with matter-of-fact bleakness that drug addiction was the cause of death. The notices reflect Maine’s growing heroin problem, underscored by families’ efforts to bring attention to the issue.

The lengthy obituary detailed Singer’s struggle with addiction and some of the hurdles she faced getting clean, but it went further than others.


While acknowledging that the choices she made played a role in Singer’s death, the author of the obituary, ex-husband Brent Singer, also put the responsibility for ignoring the scourge of mental illness and drug addiction on society, and, more pointedly, on Gov. Paul LePage.

According to the obituary, Coleen Singer’s inability to receive MaineCare, subsidized health insurance for low-income Mainers, was a major barrier to her recovery.

The obituary said Singer likely would have been eligible if MaineCare had been expanded; legislative initiatives to expand the program were thwarted on several occasions by LePage and some lawmakers. Without MaineCare, Singer could not get methadone treatment. So instead, she turned to heroin – not to get high but to avoid withdrawal.

“For readers without loved ones who are opiate addicts, you cannot imagine how powerful and difficult (the disease is),” the obituary read. “It is no stretch to say that but for LePage’s veto of Medicaid expansion, Coleen probably would not have shot the heroin that ended her life.”

Although the obituary was unsigned, Singer, a Bangor attorney who was married to Coleen briefly in 2008, confirmed Thursday that he wrote it.

Singer said he firmly believes what he wrote, even though there is no way of knowing whether her health insurance status would have saved his ex-wife’s life, but he also said he has no interest in making a bigger social or political statement.


“I did this for Coleen,” he said. “This isn’t about me.”

Singer’s obituary is the third unflinching obituary to be published in Maine in the past nine months that put a face on the state’s rapidly growing heroin problem, but the trend is not unique to Maine.

In a July 11 story, The New York Times explored the growing number of families that are highlighting heroin abuse in obituaries.

Experts said the trend is a function of treating drug abuse more “as a disease and a public health crisis, not a crime or moral failing.”

“This is part of a trend toward a greater degree of acceptance and destigmatization about issues pertaining to mental illness, including addiction,” Dr. Jeffrey A. Lieberman, chairman of psychiatry at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, told the Times.



Molly Parks of Old Orchard Beach died in April after overdosing before a work shift at a restaurant in Manchester, New Hampshire. She was 24.

Her family chose to write about her addiction in the obituary as a wake-up call for other families. They said didn’t want others to end up like Molly.

“We didn’t want to hide it, because we thought that if we put her out there maybe, maybe somebody, someplace …” Molly Parks’ father, Tom Parks, told the Portland Press Herald in April. “If it just made one person pause and say, ‘You know what, maybe I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t want to be like Molly. I don’t want to die from this.’ ”

Last year, 29-year-old David McCarthy of Falmouth was found dead of a heroin overdose in his father’s home.

McCarthy’s family similarly chose not to gloss over the details. His death and its impact on his family were highlighted in a lengthy story in The Washington Post this week.

Brent Singer said he read that Washington Post story the same day he sent his ex-wife’s obituary.


He explained that the delay between Coleen’s death and the obituary’s publication was mostly because he needed an autopsy and toxicology reports to confirm the cause of death. He also said he wanted to see it published before her 33rd birthday, which would have been Aug. 31.

Since it was first posted on the Bangor Daily News website late Wednesday afternoon, a number of readers have commented, all positively. None has mentioned LePage.

“I hope this well-written obituary strikes its mark and influences those that make policy,” wrote one.

“I’ve never read a more powerful obit,” wrote another. “Thanks for the thoughtful, insightful and caring author for such a tribute to Coleen, and may her loss from this world not be in vain.”

“Reading this account of her life moved me to tears. She deserved better,” wrote another.

Singer doesn’t plan to read the comments.


“I’m happy if some people find it uplifting, and if some people find something wrong with it, that’s fine too,” he said.

Adrienne Bennett, the governor’s spokeswoman, initially declined to provide a comment to the Press Herald about Singer’s obituary and its comments about LePage.

Instead, she forwarded an email exchange between LePage’s director of communications, Peter Steele, and Tony Ronzio, director of news and audience for the Bangor Daily News.

Steele chastised the news organization for running the obituary, which he said bordered on libel.

Ronzio defended publishing the piece.

“Obituaries are vetted for accuracy, clarity, spelling, grammar, punctuation,” he wrote. “I do agree, this particular obituary is untraditional. But it is still an obituary. If any obituary contained outright falsehoods or libelous statements, it would not appear. This one had neither.”


When pressed for a comment by the Press Herald, Bennett instead sent a copy of this week’s radio address, in which the governor talks about Maine’s drug problem.

As he has in the past, LePage focused on enforcement and shutting off supply as a way to tackle the issue.

“Folks, we have to get tough on this problem,” he said.

The governor also said that lack of funding for treatment is not the issue.

“DHHS has money available for drug treatment, even for those who don’t have Medicaid or private insurance,” he said. “We have the resources to help those who need it.”



Aside from the political undertones in Coleen Singer’s obituary, its main points appear to be that she lost her battle with addiction for a variety of reasons.

And she’s not alone.

In 2011, seven people died from heroin overdose in Maine. Last year, the number was 57.

Heroin overdose deaths have spiked nationally as well, particularly as doctors and police have taken steps to limit the availability of prescription opiates such as Oxycontin.

According to a study released this year by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the number of people addicted to heroin has more than doubled in a decade, from 214,000 in 2002 to 517,000 in 2013.

Statistics show that more and more Mainers are seeking treatment for heroin addiction – 3,463 last year, compared with 1,115 in 2010, according to the Maine Office of Substance Abuse.


Singer sought treatment for opiate addiction and, like many, turned to methadone. She also sought treatment for a borderline personality disorder.

“While Coleen was capable of great compassion and would give the shirt off her back to one less fortunate, she was also at times a con artist, thief and liar,” the obituary read.

Singer grew up in the Old Orchard Beach area, but had been living in Bangor for several years. During the last year of her life she was homeless.

The obituary does not ignore the woman’s many struggles, which include a father who left when she was 2, a mother who struggled with drugs as well, and a lengthy criminal history.

Brent Singer said that when he met Coleen, she was on her own and in the middle of her “longest and best shot at recovery.” She had steady jobs and even enrolled in community college before relapsing.

“In the end, Coleen’s untreated personality disorder and addictions prevailed,” the obituary read.

Although their marriage didn’t last long, Singer said they remained friends and she kept his name.

He ended her obituary by writing that his life “was made more difficult, but also much better for having known her.”


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