Glenn Gordon of Oxford County Mental Health Services speaks Friday night at a Mexico community forum on drug use, homelessness and other issues in the River Valley area at Mountain Valley Middle School. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

Frustrations boiled over for Androscoggin River Valley residents at a town hall meeting in Mexico on Friday night as they shared harrowing details of how substance use, homelessness and crime in the community has affected their lives.

Some attendees shared their own personal stories of recovery from drug or alcohol abuse; others described the deep pains of losing family members and loved ones to a fatal overdose.

Evidence of the opioid epidemic is hard to miss in their communities along the Androscoggin River, they said. Needles are strewn about their schools’ athletic fields, popular walking trails and front lawns.

Gary Dolloff, a softball coach at Mountain Valley High School, said whereas his players used to be able to arrive to games early to warm up or squeeze a few minutes of extra practice in, now they have to wait for him in case there are needles in the field or people sleeping in the dugout, who he’ll ask politely to leave.

“We need to help people get into recovery and take back the town,” Dolloff said in an interview after the meeting.

Most speakers suggested the area had never seen the current scale of these problems before.


At the other end of their comments and poignant questions in the Mountain Valley Middle School gymnasium were their elected and municipal officials, who mirrored their concerns and tried to provide answers.

Most of the time, the only answers they had were: We are listening, we are frustrated, too, and we want to help. Elected officials also encouraged residents to testify on legislation they deem important and letting state legislators know the problems they’re facing.

The idea for the town hall came from Mexico Selectman Kevin Jamison, who said he’s been listening to the growing concerns from River Valley residents about the trio of drug use, crime and homelessness in the communities along the Androscoggin River.

Jamison said that Mexico, with a population of about 2,700, is seeing encampments of unhoused people where there never used to be any, as well as drug exchanges out in the open.

“This is the stuff you see in the big cities, and we’ve never seen anything like this in little Rumford and Mexico,” Jamison said in an interview.



Mexico police Chief Roy Hodsdon said in an interview before Friday’s meeting that there’s been an increase in both arrests and service calls in 2023 compared to recent years.

In 2022, the Mexico Police Department had a total of 149 arrests and summonses for all offenses, compared to 107 the year before. This year, the department had 135 by the end of July.

The same goes for service calls, Hodsdon said. His department has received 2,560 complaints so far this year, only a few hundred away from eclipsing the 2,942 it saw in all of 2022.

“It’s just not stopping,” Hodsdon said. The sheer volume of calls is stretching his four-officer department, which has been an officer short since mid-summer. Hodsdon will often respond to those calls, including a report on Thursday of people occupying an abandoned building.

Hodsdon anticipates service call numbers to hit 3,800 by the year’s end, he said. Many of those calls are to report needles in public spaces, which the department will dispatch an officer to collect.

“It’s not uncommon to get a couple of calls each day or more to report needles,” Hodsdon said. “And we get it, you know. The public doesn’t feel comfortable picking them up. But, we’re inundated with those types of calls.”


At Friday’s town hall, Rumford police Chief Tony Milligan shared similar statistics. He said his department received 6,463 calls in 2022, a 54% increase from five years before. His officers are burned out, Milligan said.

One variety of service call that is trending downward, however, is opioid overdoses, according to Hodsdon.

“I would say that a year ago, we were seeing a lot more overdose calls than we’re seeing now,” Hodsdon said. “And I attribute that to the great thing that everyone is carrying Narcan,” a brand of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone. “From citizens to law enforcement, you know, we’ve been carrying it since 2014.”


According to Maine’s monthly overdose reports, Oxford County has experienced 10 fatal overdoses between this January and the start of August.

At the same time last year, the county had 18 fatal overdoses, and a total of 36 by year’s end. Similarly, nonfatal overdoses are trending downward, too – there were 205 at the start of August this year, compared to 410 in all of 2022.


Berta Broomhall, deputy chief of the region’s EMS service Med-Care Ambulance, said at the town hall there are promising trends in the River Valley specifically.

For the 11 towns and 566 square miles that Med-Care covers, there were 16 overdoses in 2022, five of them fatal, Broomhall said. Thus far in 2023, there have been nine overdoses, and only one fatality.

Broomhall added that those who overdosed are also becoming more receptive to carrying naloxone or getting connected to recovery resources.

Kathie Williams, director of the Larry Labonte Recovery Center in Rumford, has been part of that push to get naloxone in the hands of River Valley residents.

Her organization distributes the life-saving drug from their location off of Waldo Street.

“We hand out more Narcan to the loved ones of people affected than people that are actually doing the drugs,” Williams said in an interview.


Williams said the judgment once cast on those with substance use disorder has waned as many River Valley residents have been touched by opioid use directly.

“And the stigma is lessening because more people are being affected, more loved ones have been affected,” Williams said. “I don’t know if you can find anybody around here that hasn’t been affected one way or another.”

When discussing the context of Friday’s town hall in an earlier interview, Williams said she hoped the meeting would bring awareness to the dearth of resources in the River Valley and Oxford County at large when it comes to rehab centers and sober housing.

“Maybe these legislators will hear that and pass on that we need some help,” she said. “I mean we have next to nothing (when it comes to) resources around here.”


Many attendees peppered law enforcement officials, including local District Attorney Neil McLean at the town hall, demanding to know why people they see arrested for offenses like burglary, drug trafficking or domestic violence are let back out on the streets a day later.


Mexico Police Chief Hodsdon recognized the concerns of some River Valley residents who are frustrated with how some of the department’s arrests are playing out in court.

“I know the court system is inundated with calls,” Hodsdon said. “I totally understand. [But] we have to figure out a way of holding people accountable, in my opinion.”

McLean cited the overwhelming burdens confronting the state’s courts and his district, in particular.

He said District 3, which includes Oxford, Franklin and Androscoggin counties has the most pending cases statewide, with a total 4,800.

When addressing the sentences of convicted criminals, which attendees described as too light, McLean said he and his prosecutors do their best to speak on victims’ behalf and push for tougher penalties.

“The DA is not all powerful, we’re one of three voices” McLean said, besides judges and defense attorneys.


The River Valley’s state legislators also attended Friday’s town hall, and Sen. Lisa Keim, R-Oxford, said they’re focusing on these issues at the State House in Augusta, and that the River Valley is not alone in facing these problems.

She advocated for more funding for district attorney offices and jails, which she said are overcrowded, leading to the release of accused criminals.

“It’s a battle for dollars,” Keim said, and instead of focusing spending on harm reduction programs like clean needle exchanges, she said there should be more money put toward recovery and law enforcement.

The lack of rehab centers means anyone looking to go into in-patient recovery has to travel out of the area to find it, abandoning their family and support system in Oxford County, Williams said.

Then, to stay on their recovery path, the county is similarly desolate in designated sober housing.

“If we had sober housing here, [then] people can live in a safe place, a good environment … and be able to remain part of the community,” Williams said.


Oxford County is slated to receive roughly $2.6 million over the next two decades from settlements with companies accused of contributing to the opioid epidemic statewide and locally, The Maine Monitor previously reported.

Oxford County Commissioner David Duguay, whose district includes Mexico and Rumford, said in an interview that the county is in the early stages of assembling a committee to determine where the settlement money will go.

He said the county currently has around $240,000 on hand from recent payments, and will receive $50,000 annually over the next 17 years. Williams said there’s nothing more sustainable than solid housing.

“It’s a good place to give somebody a jump off, to be able to get them started,” Williams said. “Sober housing is sustainable. Because people do have to work in sober housing and they have to pay the rent. I think that would be a wonderful place to spend some money.”


The River Valley faces additional shortages in its supply of emergency family housing, according to Michelle Worthley, director of homeless services for Rumford Group Homes.


She said the emergency shelter in Rumford has a typical waitlist of 20 to 70 people per day, and staffing shortages compound her organization’s ability to provide essential services.

Worthley said her organization consistently has to turn people away who are actively using drugs, because they can’t allow people under the influence into housing where children and families are present.

“And the problem that we are seeing more than ever before, is everybody that’s looking to come into shelter is under the influence and has absolutely no intention or will to get sober,” Worthley said.

She and her organization do their best to link those with substance use disorder to the appropriate people and resources.

Worthley said there are some misconceptions about the efforts her organization puts into making these links. Community members might think that because there are people who are unhoused and currently using, it’s because Rumford Group Homes turned them away.

That’s not the whole story, Worthley said.

“We’re trying. Some people deny housing because they don’t want to get sober, or they’re not ready to get sober,” Worthley said. “So what do we do with that, as an agency?”

This story was originally published by The Maine Monitor, a nonprofit and nonpartisan news organization. To get regular coverage from the Monitor, sign up for a free Monitor newsletter here.

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