National emergency: On the front lines of Maine's opioid epidemic

On the front lines of Maine's opioid epidemic

LEWISTON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - President Trump has declared the opioid epidemic a national emergency.

"We're going to make it a national emergency. It is a serious problem, the likes of which, we've never had," he said. "You know when I was growing up, they had the LSD and they had certain generations of drugs. There's never been anything like what's happened to this country over the last four or five years."

Opioid overdoses killed more than 300 Mainers in 2016, and the epidemic doesn't show signs of stopping.

Maine police officers play a crucial role in combating this epidemic - responding to calls on a regular basis.

NEWS CENTER's Kristina Rex rode along with a Lewiston police officer to learn what it's like to be on the front lines.

READ MORE: State of Recovery

Within just two and a half hours in the cruiser - there was a call. A car accident, where a man had driven his car into a fence.

Police have not yet confirmed this officially after investigating - but it was presumed the man had overdosed at the wheel.

When officers and first responders were able to smash his car door open and wake him up, the man - who was in Lewiston - was confused and seemed to think he was in Gardiner.

He was okay and was able to walk to the ambulance on his own without being administered narcan.

READ MORE: Maine's top 'googled' health concern: opioid use

Tyler Barnard, who was a witness to the scene, is one year sober. He described the scary moment as a "reality check." It really is. You know?" he said. "I get chills from it. It's a scary thing. It really is."

Calls like this are becoming more regular. "I think it's gotten worse," said Corporal Eugene Kavanagh, a 19-year veteran with the Lewiston Police Department. "We could go a couple days without dealing with anything. And then there's days we go to 3 or 4 [overdose calls] a day."

Kavanagh says the national emergency declaration is absolutely necessary - but that he's not sure where the federal money should go. Prevention education? Treatment? Law enforcement? His answer is "D) All of the above."

"Maybe it's a combination," he said. "t's definitely - you know, you just arrest the person, then turn them loose? They're pretty much going to go back to the same thing they've been doing, and that's the problem. So I think the million dollar question is...you find somebody, how do you get them to change?"

 

© 2017 WCSH-TV


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