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Maine

Overdose Remembrance Vigil Held in Portland

Dozens of friends and family members turned out in Monument Square Thursday night for Portland's fourth annual Overdose Awareness Day Vigil. They made lanterns, wrote tributes and carried photos of loved ones they've lost to addiction. It's part of a worldwide event to publicly mourn overdose victims.

Volunteers read the names of 200 Mainers who died in the past year alone. Zoe Odlin-Platz who works in the city's needle exchange program says the number isn't official or complete. Names are gathered by emails and through word of mouth. But Platz says the number is much larger than ever before.

"And we contemplated not reading them this year," says Platz. "A lot of groups around the country decided not to read names because it was going to take so long. But we decided that it was important and we were going to do it."

This year the vigil also included overdose prevention training and naloxone distribution. Donna Young of South Portland lost her son, Christopher, to an overdose when no one was around.

"Having an addiction, it's very hard to beat the demon inside you," Young says. "And I want everybody to know that he was a very good person. He struggled and he did the best he could. And I love him. I love him very much."

Young says what Maine needs is more awareness about addiction as a disease and more treatment. Maine still lacks adequate detox and treatment resources to keep up with demand.  And Bob Fowler, executive director of the Milestone Foundation in Portland says there's another big challenge.

"The challenge is that 80 percent or so of the people we serve don't have health insurance and so we discharge them without treatment options," Fowler says. Without health insurance it's really difficult to obtain treatment, housing and all the other services people need to be able to sustain their recovery."

According to the Maine Attorney General's Office, 376 Mainers died from drug overdoses in 2016. That marks a nearly 40 percent increase from the year before.