Greater Portland’s recovery community suffered a hard blow Monday night when the brother of a leader of the Scarborough Police Department’s Operation HOPE died of an apparent drug overdose.

Jaime Higgins, a coordinator of the program that helps Mainers seek treatment for heroin and opiate addition, posted a heart-wrenching tribute to her 29-year-old brother, Devon, on the department’s Facebook page Tuesday afternoon.

“My brother, who has been doing amazingly well in his recovery, died alone in his apartment in Portland overnight,” Higgins wrote. “He recently celebrated his one-year sobriety. Believe me when I tell you it only takes ONE TIME relapsing to lose your life. I am devastated. He could have asked for help and I would have done anything for him. Substance use disorder is a lifelong disease, don’t ever take that for granted.”

Jaime Higgins didn’t respond to requests for an interview. She is a crime analyst and social media administrator for the Scarborough department. Operation HOPE, which stands for Heroin-Opiate Prevention Effort, was modeled after a similar police program in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

Officer John Gill, also a coordinator of Operation HOPE, said Devon Higgins’ death is a loss for many who are dedicated to the recovery effort in Greater Portland.

“It was a tough day yesterday. Obviously, Jaime is taking it pretty hard,” Gill said. “Whenever anyone dies from an overdose, it’s the same thing.”

Gill said he saw Devon Higgins on Sunday at the Rally for Recovery at Deering Oaks in Portland.

“He was looking good,” Gill said. “He seemed to be doing well. All it takes is one slip with this unforgiving disease.”

Gill noted that the drug epidemic has reached crisis proportions in Maine, where an average of one person a day dies from an overdose.

There were 272 overdose deaths statewide in 2015, with the vast majority related to heroin and prescription opioids, according to the Maine Attorney General’s Office. Through the first six months of 2016, 189 people died from overdoses, up from 126 in the same period in 2015. Should that pace continue, Maine would have 378 overdose deaths this year, a record number.

Devon Higgins had volunteered for Operation HOPE, Gill said, and helped to place its 150th person into a drug treatment program.

“Despite his struggles, he always tried to reach out to others,” Gill said.

A Scarborough native, Higgins worked in commercial fishing for many years, including hauling lobsters, and more recently worked as a mason, said Tiffany Voisine, Higgins’ former girlfriend.

“He was the hardest-working man I ever met,” Voisine said. “He was doing really well at masonry and was planning to start his own business with a friend.”

Higgins was dedicated to his family, Voisine said, especially his sister, mother and grandfather, Kenneth Morse, who died July 27 at age 85. The loss crushed him.

“They were so close,” Voisine said. “He was like a father to him. He gave him a great work ethic and showed him how to be a good man.”

Voisine said she saw that goodness in the way Higgins treated her 1-year-old daughter, Lily, as if she were his own child. She had hoped to resume a relationship with Higgins. Instead, she is left with a numbing sadness and anger over losing him.

“I saw him (Monday) night,” she said. “Now he’s gone from this earth.”

In her Facebook post, Jaime Higgins wrote that her commitment to Operation HOPE was emboldened by everything she went through with her younger brother, “specifically trying to get him drug treatment in Maine and not being able to find it.”

Devon Higgins died just days after Operation Hope announced that it had placed its 200th person into a drug treatment program.

“Every single life that I have worked tirelessly to help has been inspired by my brother,” she wrote, “and now I’ll continue to work in his honor.”


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