Pubdate: Tue, 30 Apr 2002
Source: Portland Press Herald (ME)
Copyright: 2002 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.
Author: Josie Huang


Vivian Daicy's long history of drug abuse caught up with her early 
Sunday morning when she became the 11th person since January to die 
of a drug overdose in Portland.

In contrast, five people died from overdoses during the same period 
last year. "There's never been a year with so many (overdose deaths) 
in such a short period of time," said Police Chief Michael Chitwood.

But police and emergency personnel say they are not surprised because 
drugs are increasingly cheap and potent, and that leads to overdoses.

This year, paramedics have been answering two to three overdose- 
related calls a day, compared with one to two a day last year, said 
Deputy Fire Chief Terry Walsh, who oversees the city's Medcu unit.

Walsh marvels at how just three or four years ago, paramedics used to 
view heroin overdoses as anomalies, but now "it's become so 
commonplace that it's just another call."

Authorities say if it were not for the quick response of paramedics, 
the number of fatal overdoses would double, maybe triple.

They point to this weekend as an example. As Daicy, 46, succumbed to 
the suspected influence of alcohol, cocaine and prescription drugs, 
emergency personnel saved three other overdose victims: a 19-year-old 
man on mescaline, and a 24-year-old woman and a 43-year-old man, both 
on methadone.

Methadone - a controversial synthetic narcotic prescribed to treat 
heroin and painkiller addiction - and opiates such as heroin and 
Oxycontin may be implicated in two-thirds of the 11 overdoses, said 
Sgt. Scott Pelletier of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. The rest 
appear to involve the mixture of alcohol and prescription drugs or 
cocaine, he said.

Walsh said that in some of the 11 overdoses, the victims were found 
alone. Other times, he said, a friend waited to call for help after 
clearing the scene of any evidence of drugs or moving the victim to 
another location. Precious minutes slipped by until oxygen stopped 
feeding the brain and the victims died.

The overdose victims are made up of a near-even number of men and 
women, and their ages ranged from the early 20s to 46. It appeared 
that some had overdoses before, Pelletier said.

Fueling the overdoses, Pelletier said, is the plummeting cost of 
drugs. He said one-hundredth of a gram of heroin, which sold for 
between $30 and $35 last year, now costs $20 on the streets of 
Portland. Even better bargains - as low as $6 a bag - can be found in 
Massachusetts, he said.

The increased potency of drugs is also a big culprit in overdoses, 
Chitwood said. "Years ago, (a particular type of heroin) could have 
been 35 to 40 percent pure - all diluted," he said. Today, he said, 
it's 75 percent to 80 percent pure.

Chitwood said the illegal distribution of methadone is significantly 
adding to the problem. The woman who overdosed on methadone this 
weekend got the drug from her boyfriend, Thomas Hume, who goes to the 
methadone clinic CAP Quality Care in Westbrook, police said. They 
arrested the 25-year-old Westbrook man on charges of furnishing 
Schedule W drugs and possession of heroin.

Last year, 16 people died of overdoses in Portland and 54 died statewide.

Paramedics, bracing for an increase in overdose-related calls, are 
being stretched thin by an increase in activity, Walsh said. Last 
year, calls were up 10 percent - an extra 1,000 - largely because of 
the city's aging population, he said.
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