Portland Police Chief: Overdose ‘Did Not Involve Deering High School’

May 23, 2016

Gov. Paul LePage has doubled down on his claim that a Deering High School student was revived from a heroin overdose three times in a week.

But Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck says one of his officers is the man the governor is citing as source, and he says the officer never mentioned a student, much less one at Deering High School.

Before appearing on the Maine Public Radio program “Maine Calling,” Gov. LePage was asked to admit that his story wasn’t true. Members of the Portland legislative delegation called the governor’s overdose claim “an outright fabrication.” In a press statement, the lawmakers said they asked LePage nearly two weeks ago to cop to it, yet they’d heard nothing.

LePage insists that his story is true, although he’s changing it.

“In one week a junior at Deering High School had three Narcan shots,” LePage told an audience in Lewiston nearly two weeks ago. “And the third one, he got up and went to class. He didn’t go to the hospital, he didn’t get checked out. He was so used to it, he just came out of it and went to class.”

Deering school officials have repeatedly said the story is false. But until Monday, the governor had not responded. He now says that he heard the story from a school resource officer.

“It was not fabricated. This was an actual conversation I had,” LePage said. “The police chief was even in the room.”

That would be Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck, who says he knows exactly what the governor is talking about: a conversation about an overdose in Deering Oaks Park. But he says he isn’t sure how that became a story about a student overdosing at Deering, the high school.

“I am absolutely saying that Officer [Steve] Black was not referencing any kind of overdose at Deering High School,” Sauschuck said.

Black is the school resource officer at Deering and is with the Portland Police Department. LePage didn’t mention him by name, but said the story came from Deering’s school resource officer during an event that took place in Portland last fall.

Sauschuck was there and he recalls seeing Black talking to the governor. He didn’t think anything of it until he began reading reports in which the governor claimed a student overdosed. He asked Black about it. He says Black told him a much different story than the one LePage told in Lewiston.

“When Officer Black was talking about this, he says, ‘I wasn’t even talking about kids, I wasn’t talking about youth,’” Sauschuck says. “‘I was talking about experiences on the street, when we’re out here working every day.’“

Sauschuck says he and Black have no clue how the story morphed into something else.

“It did not involve Deering High School, it did not involve a school bathroom,” Sauschuck says. “It did involve Deering Oaks Park. But that was one example. And, to be quite frank, there are scenarios where people are being [revived] multiple times. But how all that came together, I have no idea.”

Nonetheless, the governor said Monday that he wants the U.S. attorney general to investigate whether schools are being transparent about heroin overdoses. It’s unclear whether the governor will follow-through on that threat or whether the U.S. attorney general would even conduct such an inquiry.

Jeanne Crocker, interim superintendent for the Portland School District, says the governor’s comments have brought undue negative attention.

“I think that it’s obvious that when comments are made about a school that are negative and do not cast the school in a positive light, that it is damaging to the school,” Crocker said. “It is even more harmful when those claims are unsubstantiated.”

Lost in the story is the fact that Maine has not yet adopted a policy to allow school nurses to administer the overdose drug.

“It’s a medication and it can be given by nurses in general, but in the school setting there’s other parameters that have to be considered,” said Nancy Dube, the school nursing consultant for the Maine Department of Education.

Dube says that Maine law doesn’t expressly prohibit school nurses from administering the overdose drug. But, she says, giving certain medications require a note from a student’s physician. Narcan falls under that category. And, Dube says, the state has yet to develop a model policy for school nurses to follow for Narcan use.

That wasn’t apparent to LePage, who told a caller Monday that he believed all school nurses have access to the drug.

“The school nurses have Narcan … already,” LePage said.

Dube says she does not know how many schools have the drug. To her knowledge, none have asked permission from the state to administer it.