Kaitlin MacKenzie, pictured here at a coffee shop in Kennebunk, said drug use in affluent towns is “just better hidden.” She is the daughter of Kennebunk Police Chief Bob MacKenzie, who is speaking out about the increase in overdose deaths in the state. Kristen McNerney / The Forecaster

A Maine police chief is warning that the number of deaths due to opioid overdoses this year may exceed last year’s, in part, due to isolation caused by the pandemic.

So far in 2021, single overdose deaths in Maine are averaging 50 per month, on track to exceed last year’s total of 504, according to Kennebunk Police Chief Bob MacKenzie, who chairs the Rotary District 7780 Recovery Initiative.

Chief Bob MacKenzie is training people across southern Maine to administer Narcan in order to stem opioid-related deaths. Contributed / Bridgton-Lake Region Rotary

Last year’s statewide numbers exceeded 380 in 2019, 354 in 2018, 417 in 2017 and 376 in 2016. Nationwide, the CDC reported an estimated 93,000 overdose deaths in 2020, up 30% over the previous year.

“I’ve seen what substance use disorder has caused and I’ve always felt something like this is pretty preventable,” MacKenzie told members of the Bridgton-Lake Region Rotary Club during a recent online discussion.

Mackenzie’s  28-year-old daughter, Kaitlin, is a recovering opioid addict.

“I’ve done death notifications before, and I was wondering if I was going to get a call or visit from an officer saying my daughter had passed,” MacKenzie told the club.

Isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has made matters worse, according to Candy Greenberg, communications specialist at the Lakes Region Recovery Center.

“Quarantine was terrible for everybody in recovery,” Greenberg said. “We’ve seen increases in people coming in and seeking treatment for substance use disorder and mental health. People who have had many years of recovery behind them falter.” 

Those who are addicted to drugs are more prone to staying isolated in general, Kaitlin MacKenzie said, adding that she keeps connected with former members from a Narcotics Anonymous group out of Biddeford.

“It’s easy to isolate when you’re using,” she said. “The best thing you can have is a connection with someone.”

Bob MacKenzie cited the state’s recent commitment to the distribution of Naloxone, commonly known under the brand name Narcan, which can reverse an overdose. In addition to speaking out about overdose awareness in southern Maine, he has been training people to administer Narcan.

In July, the Portland Press Herald reported that Maine distributed over 5,000 monthly doses of naloxone statewide in recent months, up from about 800 distributed in July 2019.

Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce said his department — which serves 15 communities across the county —has administered 13 doses of naloxone so far in 2021, with nine in 2020, nine in 2019, 12 in 2017 and 12 in 2018.

Substance use disorder can be tied to other factors like poverty and food insecurity, said Lisa Ryan, a pediatrician at Bridgton Hospital and former president of the Maine Medical Association.

Kaitlin Mackenzie is an example of how addiction can affect anyone.

Growing up in Kennebunk, she wasn’t around others who used drugs, she said, and was only exposed after ankle surgery in college, where she sought the painkillers she was prescribed after the procedure.

“A lot of times people think in affluent towns there’s no drug use,” Kaitlin said. “It’s just better hidden.”

Though things are getting better for Kaitlin who has been off drugs  for two years, she’ll always be in recovery, she said, because some things “can change in a second.”

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