Portland police said Monday that they are concerned about what they say is a spike in the number of drug overdoses since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.

There have been 86 drug overdoses reported in Maine’s largest city since May 1, seven of them fatal. In the past week alone, there have been one fatal and nine non-fatal overdoses, Portland police said Monday in a news release.

“There have historically been upticks in overdoses here in the city at this time of the year, but the recent spike and this number of overdoses and deaths over a 70 day period is disturbing and warrants public awareness and notification,” Portland Police Chief Frank Clark said in a statement.

Portland police said they have been unable to link the surge to any specific drug. In most of the non-fatal cases, first responders or others were able to administer naloxone (Narcan), to reverse the effects of heroin or other opioid-related overdoses. Several types of opioids are prescribed for pain reduction.

Naloxone nasal spray can be purchased at any Maine pharmacy without a doctor’s prescription. The Portland Public Health Division also offers the overdose medication at no cost through Portland’s Public Health Division – contact Zoe Brokos, the city’s substance use prevention & harm reduction services program coordinator at [email protected] or 756-8024.

From 2008 to 2019, Portland reported 373 overdose deaths. The city recorded 55 fatal overdoses in 2019, according to figures provided by the state. Overdoses in the city last year were were up 25 percent over 2018, police said. The release did not say how many overdoses were reported in the city last year.

Overdose deaths in Maine increased in 2019 after a one-year decline, fueled by spikes in deaths related to cocaine and methamphetamine, as well as the powerful, synthetic opioid, fentanyl. Of the 380 overdose deaths in Maine that year, 341 were classified as accidental and 34 were suicides. The cause of five deaths was undetermined.

Earlier this year, Maine Attorney General Aaron Frey said the grim statistics are a reminder that the opioid epidemic remains a major public health challenge even as the state tries to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

Portland police are encouraging anyone who knows someone using opioids to familiarize themselves with the signs of an opioid-related overdose. Those may include unresponsiveness, blue lips or fingernails, slow or no heartbeat, slow or no breathing, pale or clammy skin and pinpoint pupils.

If you suspect someone has overdosed you should contact 911 immediately and seek medical attention. Under Maine law, a person who seeks medical aid in such circumstances cannot be arrested or prosecuted for certain drug violations.

In addition to the spike in overdoses, Portland police and city officials expressed concern Monday about  used hypodermic needles left on streets, in parks and other public spaces where they are could be picked up by children or others.

Police said that since May 1, the city collected more than 1,000 needles on public property. Some were left in public sharps containers, others were not. There are 20 sharps container sites throughout the city where needles can be disposed of safely.

The city also offers a certified needle exchange program at 103 India St.

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