The Portland Police Department says it has responded to an “alarming number of overdoses” since Christmas, including two fatal overdoses that came at the end of a record year for drug deaths in Maine.

Portland police officers also responded to 21 nonfatal overdoses during that period. Narcan was administered to the victims by first responders or bystanders in 14 of the 21 reported nonfatal overdoses, department spokesman David Singer said in a news release Monday.

What police are experiencing in Portland mirrors what has been happening in the state and across the country.

Maine was on pace to lose more than 600 residents to fatal overdoses in 2021, reporting 515 fatal drug overdoses between Jan. 1 and Oct. 31. That number surpasses the record of 502 overdose deaths in the state in 2020. The previous high had been 417 deaths in 2017, which before the pandemic was considered to be the height of the opioid crisis.

There are no statistics available yet for November and December due to delays caused by pandemic-related issues. Toxicology reports are being returned to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in six to eight weeks following a person’s death, which is three to four times longer than before the pandemic.

The surge in overdoses in 2021 is being fueled by the powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is showing up in nearly every illegal drug being sold. In the last decade, the number of yearly overdose deaths has more than tripled, fueled overwhelmingly by opioids.


“I think the stress on people and the isolation from the pandemic are certainly factors, but I think the biggest factor is the lethality of the drugs,” Leslie Clark, executive director of the Portland Recovery Community Center, told the Press Herald last month. “When we think about people who relapse or are at risk of relapse, the consequence is just so much greater. That experience didn’t use to be as likely to kill you.”

In Maine, more than 7,800 overdoses were reported between January and October, according to the state’s monthly overdose report, which is funded jointly by the Maine Office of the Attorney General and the Office of Behavioral Health. The monthly report helps provide an overview of fatal and nonfatal overdoses that occur in Maine each month.

The rise in drug overdoses in Maine reflects a national trend. In November 2021 the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported 100,306 drug overdose deaths in the United States during the 12 months ending in April 2021. That represents an increase of 28.5 percent from the 78,056 deaths during the same period in the previous year.

The Portland Police Department and the city’s Department of Public Health are urging residents to be aware of the availability of Narcan, which can be used to save a person’s life. Narcan is available at pharmacies without a prescription and the Portland Public Health Division offers no-cost Narcan as well as overdose recognition and response training to the public.

Narcan, a brand name for naloxone, is a medicine that can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose. It can restore normal breathing to a person if their breathing has slowed or stopped because of an opioid overdose. Naloxone can be given as a nasal spray or injected. If you should encounter an overdose situation, police recommend that you call 911 and stay with the person until first responders arrive.

For information on youth substance use prevention, contact Jiffy Kelley-Young at 207-874-8452

Comments are not available on this story.