Lighted paper bags stand as memorials to those lost at a drug overdose victims’ vigil in Portland’s Monument Square on Aug. 31, 2015. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

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Gordon Smith is Maine’s first director of opioid response

In her column published on International Overdose Awareness Day, Courtney Allen wrote eloquently about the recent death of her friend Tim Bellavance. Her poignant remembrance touched me, and I want to assure her, and all Maine people, that the governor and I are deeply committed to saving lives and supporting Maine people by ensuring recovery is open and available for anyone struggling with substance use disorder.

Tragic losses like that of Bellavance, and more recently that of noted recovery and harm reduction advocate Jesse Harvey, are vivid reminders of the work that remains to be done to address Maine’s long-standing opioid epidemic. Harvey provided compassionate assistance to hundreds of Mainers in recovery. His leadership will be missed, and I offer my deepest condolences to his family, friends and the members of the recovery community who are grieving his loss.

In mid-July, the Maine attorney general’s office released overdose fatality data for the first six months of 2020, which was an accelerated timeline in order to fully convey the seriousness of the situation in Maine to the public. Deaths from drug overdoses in Maine rose by 23 percent over the final three months of 2019, a tragic trendline that continued into the new year and has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maine is not alone in grappling with this rise in deaths from drug overdoses. As the Wall Street Journal reported just last week, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on persons in recovery has been destabilizing and deadly across the entire country.

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