It was a nightmare of a phone call.

Sandra Vermette, 27, was on her lunch break from her job as a housekeeper about 11:30 Saturday morning when a friend called her in a panic. Come home quick, the friend said. Your baby sitter is overdosing in your house.

Inside Vermette’s two-bedroom apartment in the subsidized housing complex at Cranberry Ridge in Sanford, a neighbor whom Vermette trusted to look after her three children – and lived in the same apartment complex – had passed out and was showing signs of an overdose.

“I got here from Ogunquit in less than 20 minutes,” Vermette said. “Unfortunately, I trusted her. You live and you learn.”

By the time Vermette returned home, the 27-year-old baby sitter had been taken away by emergency workers to a hospital, and Vermette’s children, ages 1, 4 and 7, were staying with another neighbor. But the ordeal was not over.

A few hours later, as Vermette chatted outside her apartment with other neighbors, a young woman who had been staying with the baby sitter approached Vermette and tried to persuade the group that the incident that morning was not drug-related.

But before the woman finished her point, she began slurring her words. Her eyes grew lazy and her gaze shifted.

“A few minutes into it, she’s acting weird,” Vermette said. “If you didn’t know better, you’d think she was drunk.”

When the woman finally collapsed on the asphalt, Vermette and her neighbors knew what was happening – another overdose.

“She was blue, her lips were blue,” Vermette said.


For the third time in 24 hours, paramedics were called to the Cranberry Ridge complex to respond to an overdose. The first call occurred late Friday night. In the 24-hour period that followed, a total of six people overdosed in Sanford, one fatally.

Rescue personnel in Sanford are on track this year to administer Narcan, the antidote for opioid overdoses, more than ever before. In 2015, rescue workers in Sanford gave the life-saving drug to 44 people. In 2014, they administered it only 20 times. But through Wednesday, nearly the halfway point of the year, that figure is already up to 30, said Sanford Fire Chief Steve Benotti, including the latest overdose: An 18-year-old woman who was administered Narcan on Tuesday night.

Vermette said Cranberry Ridge, a cluster of 16 subsidized units at 179 Lebanon, has been relatively peaceful, with few instances of police activity. But Vermette said all of the overdose calls over the weekend involved women with ties to a single unit.

No one answered the door at the apartment where Vermette said the drug activity was happening, and police have not released the identities of the people who overdosed.

Owned and operated by the Sanford Housing Authority, Cranberry Ridge has lease terms for tenants including provisions against illegal activity, said Sanford Housing Authority Executive Director William G. Keefer.

“The leases are pretty specific about that,” he said. “And when you get into the federal arena, they’re very strict on drug use. You can get evicted for lease violations. We approach it as any landlord would.”


Keefer said his group is working with the Sanford police to gather more information about the overdoses before taking any action against tenants involved.

His agency serves about 1,000 people annually, and operates about 800 apartment units that cater to different groups of people who need housing, all with federal funding.

Cranberry Ridge is administered as a rural housing development, and has been open since 1992, he said.

The three recent overdoses there are the first time in 16 years that Keefer can recall an overdose in a subsidized unit. He said most evictions that his agency pursues are for failure to pay rent.

Although police are still testing suspected narcotic samples found at some of the overdose scenes, Sanford Police Chief Thomas Connolly suspects the substance involved was fentanyl being sold as heroin. Fentanyl, a powerful opioid painkiller that is up to 50 times more potent than heroin, has been blamed in part for the recent surge in overdose deaths nationwide, as well as in Maine.

The Sanford overdoses also caught the attention of Sen. Angus King, who has pushed unsuccessfully for legislation to provide $600 million in emergency funding to states for added treatment and drug interdiction efforts.

“What happened in Sanford over the weekend shows that opioid-related overdoses are not slowing down,” King said in a statement Wednesday. “It breaks my heart because, while all of this is happening around us, Congress is just sitting on its hands as people struggle to find help, as people overdose, as people die. When will Congress stand up and say enough is enough?”