Special Report

hey are dying in the potato fields of Aroostook County and the lobster-fishing harbors Down East.

They are dying in the western Maine foothills where paper mill closures have sown economic anxiety. They are dying in cities like Portland and Augusta and in the affluent suburbs, where heroin is plentiful.

The death toll reached 376 last year, driven almost entirely by opioids – prescription painkillers, heroin and now fentanyl. More than one victim per day. More than car accidents. More than suicide. More than breast cancer.

And it’s getting worse.

As the public health crisis deepened, state policies made treatment less available to the tens of thousands of people addicted. Only now is Maine beginning to pay attention. For the victims and families left behind, it’s too little, too late.

Today, the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram begins a 10-day series exploring the heroin scourge and assessing the horrific cost our state has borne.

Behind the wheel of her daughter’s car this month, Ann Howgate of Lebanon clutches the blanket that EMTs used to cover Kristina Emard after she was found dead in the vehicle on Sept. 25, 2016. Howgate had desperately sought treatment in Maine for Kristina, 28, an Army veteran who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and died from an overdose of cocaine and fentanyl, a powerful opioid. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup
Read the Series
Each day, the series explores a different facet of Maine's heroin epidemic: how some families suffer multiple overdose deaths; how labeling addiction as a moral failing weakens our responses; how one York County town has been ravaged by heroin; how women face a perilous lack of support and treatment programs; and how a failure to invest in treatment fed a rising death toll.
Lives Lost
The heroin crisis has torn through Maine families regardless of income, religion or ethnicity. The 60 overdose victims below were among 650 people who died from opioids in the past two years. Their families agreed to tell their stories.


A gifted competitor with a Major League Baseball dream

Nicholas Douglass, 25

Nick Douglass was going to pitch in the Major Leagues. That was his dream.

“The third grade,” said his mother, Patty Dumont of Minot. “I remember going to his teacher conference. They had asked him, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ His answer was, ‘MLB player.’ They asked, ‘What do you want to do in life?’ ‘MLB,’ he said.

“Everything in his life was MLB. And they said it was unrealistic, that he should have another goal. He said, ‘No, that is my goal.’”

Nick could throw a baseball. He was a standout athlete at Poland High School and would pitch two years for Ed Flaherty at the University of Southern Maine, in 2011 and 2012, after transferring from Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire. He struck out 122 batters in 87 2/3 innings for the Huskies. He also played independent ball for two years, pitching for the Old Orchard Beach Surge in 2015 until an elbow injury ended his pitching career.

“Nick loved the competition,” said Dumont. “If there was something he couldn’t do, he would try it because that was in his makeup.”

That made him a leader on every team he played on. Flaherty called him "one of the most competitive kids I ever had.”

Nick’s mother believes he began using drugs at Franklin Pierce, where he began suffering anxiety after the death of a close friend and teammate. Nick became addicted to heroin. He went through detox twice and got into a residential treatment program in Florida. But he relapsed and died of an overdose on Nov. 25, 2015. He was 25.

His mother remembers him as always active and involved in some sport, whether it was competitive or friendly, such as disc golf. “He never sat down,” she said. “Unless he was playing his Xbox.”

He liked to have fun, too. “He was a jokester, a prankster who wanted to be the life of the party,” she said.

And, his friends noted, he was compassionate and loyal. While he was a gifted athlete, he befriended everyone in high school.

“He was loved by everybody,” said Dumont. “He had an infectious smile. He liked everybody. He stuck up for everyone. He was a jock, but he had friends who weren’t. And he would stick up for them. If one of his best friends, or a teammate, was picking on some scrawny kid from his English class, he would stick up for them.”



Ashley Newell Restaurant worker, 28


Born into struggle, ‘she always saw herself as damaged goods’

Ashley Newell, 28

Ashley Newell loved her job as a waitress at Sebago Brewing Co. She never overlooked a single customer, always stopping to ask each person how his or her day was or to compliment a stranger.

The inclination to serve emerged in other ways, too, including her studies after high school. She majored in criminal justice at the University of Southern Maine, hoping to one day help children and teens affected by addiction.

And for a short time, she worked as a peer counselor at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta.

But Ashley was fighting her own battle with addiction, and it started at a young age. Some might even say she was born into it.

She was the daughter of an alcoholic, abusive mother and a largely absent father who served time in prison for rape. Ashley was placed with a loving foster family with whom she lived for years, but her struggle never really went away.

“I think she always saw herself as damaged goods,” said a friend, Hannah Paquette. “She had the most (trouble) I’ve seen one human endure in my life, but yet she maintained and loved life more than anybody.”

Alcohol was Ashley’s worst addiction. Drugs followed, when a boyfriend in Portland introduced her to heroin. The boyfriend was abusive and had been arrested for domestic violence, robberies, assault and drug trafficking.

Recovery and relapse became part of her struggle, and Ashley first enrolled in residential rehab at Crossroads in Windham in 2012. At one point she had achieved more than two years of sobriety before relapsing.

Shortly before her death at 28, she left a sober-living house and moved in with her boyfriend. She died of an overdose in July 2016, taking more heroin than her body could handle after several months clean. A friend who went through rehab with Ashley, Rachael Allenby, said the news came as a shock to her and others who had looked up to her as an example of someone who, despite everything, always strove to get back on the right path.

“She fell off the wagon, but she always got back on,” said another friend, Nicole Wheaton. “I think she knew it was something she would always struggle with, but she kept doing it.”



Mark Berglund Telecommunications professional, 50


Family man had an exuberance for sports, holiday traditions

Mark Berglund, 50

Mark Berglund, a gregarious man who made friends easily, was buoyed by a great curiosity and the belief that traditions are vital.

What hobbled him were his hips, and a series of replacement surgeries in 2009 and 2010, including a procedure for a broken leg, that led to a deadly dependence on prescription painkillers and alcohol.

His wife, Dee Berglund, described Mark as “the fun one.” He could talk to anyone about anything, she said, and that’s what made him so good at his customer service jobs at Time Warner and FairPoint Communications. “He really wanted to learn about you no matter who you were or what your background was,” she said.

Born into a Massachusetts family of boys, Mark was a devout fan of New England sports teams. He knew the stats and celebrated their successes with exuberance and joy. “When the Red Sox won the World Series,” Dee said, “he was lighting off the fireworks at midnight and the whole neighborhood loved it. Loved it.”

Even more than sports, Mark treasured holidays and their traditions. When the Berglund children were born, he went to great lengths to make those traditions bigger and the celebrations better.

At Christmas, he went all out. The tree was decorated with ornaments from Mark’s own childhood, and the movie “A Christmas Story” would always be playing in the background. He would hide the identity of the “tomtenisse” or tomty – a Santa-like figure from Swedish folklore who delivers sacks of toys and treats at Christmas. He wanted the opening of presents to last all day.

Halloween seemed to bring out a competitive streak. “We always had to get the big candy bars so we could be ‘that house,’” said Niklas Berglund, Mark’s oldest son, who shares his father’s birthday. “I’m not going to lie. We’re definitely keeping that tradition of being ‘that house’ on Halloween.”

But Mark’s love of family and his cherished holiday traditions could not withstand the power of addiction. He spent every Christmas alone after 2011 because he couldn’t kick the alcohol and prescription drug habits he acquired after his surgeries. Mark died of an overdose in March 2016, alone in an Augusta apartment, at age 50.

“He had seven terrible years,” Dee Berglund said. “But he had 43 really good years.”



Billy Munroe Moving company, 36


‘He thought drugs made him the person he wanted to be,’ mom says

Billy Munroe, 36

To recall the good memories from her son’s life, Teresa McLeod has to go back to before he was a teenager.

Billy Munroe Jr. was a risk-taking youngster, the first to take the experimental leap.

“He was a daredevil,” McLeod said. “When he was 10 or 11, the phone calls started coming: ‘Mom, I think I broke my collarbone, again.’ ‘I think I broke my wrist.’”

On a vacation to Florida, Billy, ecstatic when he saw a swimming pool near their hotel, flung himself into the chilly water. To this day, McLeod can’t forget the look of shock on his face.

Although her son was not typically a singer, she said when he was 13, while the family was at a camp in Raymond, Billy sang the Bryan Adams song “Summer of ‘69” in front of the family. It was a glimpse of the Billy she wished she saw more of – fun-loving, outgoing, happy.

But those memories were short-lived, she said. Her marriage to Billy’s father was brief and violent.

Billy was a target at school, too. A group of kids once hung him from a tree by his underwear. On another occasion, a cousin tipped over a Porta-Potty while Billy was inside. He began to recede into himself emotionally.

“He didn’t have any self-worth,” McLeod said. “He thought drugs made him the person he wanted to be.”

By the time Billy was 14, she began finding bottles of vodka stolen from a nearby convenience store stashed in his dresser. Heroin followed soon after. McLeod estimated that her son had overdosed and been revived at least a dozen times.

Billy hated going to school, and dropped out to work with his father, with whom he had reconciled, packing moving trucks. He excelled at the work, but his drug use was too much to overcome, and he could not hold down jobs for long.

Although he couldn’t stop shooting heroin, Billy wanted children, and he had a daughter with a girlfriend. The young girl would become the only steadying influence as his life spiraled further out of control.

When Billy was sober enough to be around his daughter, McLeod loved to watch him get down on the floor to play with her, smiling and laughing. It’s an image she tries to hold in her mind.

Billy was 36 when he died on Oct. 18, 2015.



Patricia Sandberg Artist, 36


A vibrant artistic talent in Portland was drained by drug abuse

Patricia Sandberg, 36

Patti Sandberg showed early signs of artistic talent. She took advanced art lessons, studied dance and played the clarinet in high school. When it was time for college, Sandberg enrolled at Maine College of Art, where she majored in ceramics.

After she graduated in 2002, MECA hired her as a ceramics technician. She helped students mix glazes, maintain kilns and learn safe practices. She did everything a ceramic artist in Maine should do: She studied at Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts, worked as a studio assistant at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, and taught at summer art camps and pottery workshops across Portland.

In 2010, Portland Magazine featured her as one of the city’s emerging artists. When the article was published, Patti sent a copy to her mother with a note: “You will be so surprised!“

Five years later, on Aug. 20, 2015, Patti was dead of a drug overdose. Portland police found her at 11:30 on a Thursday morning, a needle clenched between her teeth. She was 36.

“What a waste of talent,” said her mother, Kathleen Sandberg. “She always smiled, always giggled. She was very friendly, and always helped people whenever she could. What a waste.”

Kathleen Sandberg said her daughter started smoking pot, snorting cocaine and doing LSD in high school. Her behavior worsened, and her parents, who divorced when Patti was 6, sent her to Maine to enroll at the Elan School, a controversial behavior modification school in Poland that is now closed. Patti hated Elan but loved Maine and ordered her life around MECA and the Portland art scene.

Kathleen Sandberg stopped talking to her daughter two years before she died. She suspected her of stealing money from her, and Patti’s multiple arrests on theft charges by Portland police confirmed her fears that her daughter was still using.

When she attended her daughter’s memorial at MECA, Kathleen Sandberg learned how well-liked Patti was in Portland. MECA put together a display of her artwork, and the community paid its respects. “Patti was a good kid,” her mother said. “I want her spirit kept alive.”



Alex Legendre Earthwork, 25


Against heroin, a young man’s determination faltered

Alex Legendre, 25

Alex Legendre learned to cope on his own at an early age. From the age of 4 until he was 10, he lived in a Russian orphanage in Nizhny Tagil, a city in the Ural Mountains shrouded by the toxic exhaust from more than 600 factories.

When he was adopted by Cheryl and Ray Legendre and moved to Saco, he brought a sharp intellect, a ready ability to learn English, a love of big machinery and a strong sense of self-reliance.

“You really couldn’t tell him ‘No,’ because if it was something he wanted, he was going to get it, one way or another,” Cheryl Legendre said. “And he was very opinionated.”

She thinks his troubled childhood left emotional scars that he dealt with by using drugs, beginning with marijuana and, later, opioid pills and heroin.

When 13-year-old Alex decided he wanted a dirt bike, he set up his own lawn-mowing business and then got a job as a dishwasher. “By the end of that year he bought his dirt bike. He was so proud of himself.”

He grew to dislike school and withdrew from high school, but he never disdained learning. When Alex wanted education he dove deep into research, scouring the internet, reading newspapers and legislative bills. When he took his GED exam a month after dropping out, he scored in the 99th percentile in English and Language Arts. “That was his second language, and he did really well in math and science, too,” said his mother, a fifth-grade teacher.

The blonde, blue-eyed Alex packed muscles on his 5-foot-8 frame by working out at the gym. He was the favorite of his cousins and took satisfaction in completing an arduous task.

“He liked hard, physical work, and he liked to see the results of his work,” Cheryl Legendre said.

Alex also became addicted to heroin but felt he could kick it on his own. He had been using for two or three years when he was arrested in June 2015 on a trafficking charge. Released a year later, “he looked amazing and he was so happy,” Cheryl said. He was home. He was clean. On the night he lined up a job, Alex, 25, died of a fentanyl overdose.

“He had a new look on life. It lasted nine days,” Ray Legendre said.



Ryan Bossie Property maintenance, 26


‘Self-proclaimed badass’ carried a kind of sadness, too, says brother

Ryan Bossie, 26

Ryan Bossie learned how to play cribbage in jail.

Toward the end of his life, when he was trying to stop using drugs, Ryan would spend Sundays at his brother’s house in Portland.

“We would have breakfast and play cribbage and just connect,” Andrew, 33, said. “I remember one time wanting to beat him in cribbage, and realizing I’m just sitting here with my brother. This isn’t an addict.

“Yeah, my brother was an addict, but he was my brother, too.”

Ryan died of an overdose in Portland in January 2015. He was 26.

Andrew was the oldest sibling, the third parent, the one who tried to take care of everybody. Ryan was the youngest, the troublemaker, the one who always needed money and help.

“He was a badass, a self-proclaimed badass,” Andrew said.

As a toddler, Ryan had a fascination with the mechanics of his family’s VCR. Despite his denials when the remote went missing, it turned up inside the videocassette player’s cavity, along with some of his Legos.

As a teenager, Ryan and his stepbrother Danny built skateboard ramps in the driveway. He later worked construction jobs; he helped Andrew and his husband, Gary, fix up their home in Portland, and his brother can still point out the doors Ryan stripped of 100 years of paint for their professional quality.

Ryan eventually took courses in welding at Northern Maine Community College, hoping to become an underwater welder.

“That’s like the most dangerous job ever, and he was like, ‘I can do that,’” Andrew said.

But for more than half his life, Ryan abused drugs. He was in and out of jail, in and out of treatment. Andrew called the police when his brother stole from a neighbor, accompanied him to AA meetings and paid for rehab.

Ryan liked to deconstruct and rebuild things, but he struggled to do so with his addiction and his life. Andrew learned how to tell when his brother was high, and when he was sober.

“I would have really interesting conversations with him about his ideas,” Andrew said. “But for the most part, I felt like when he was sober, he was confronted by this overwhelming reality of the hole he had dug for himself.

“He was sad.”



Bobby Jo Hafford Mechanic, 35


Fit and self-disciplined, he ‘wasn’t nearly as strong as that stuff’

Bobby Jo Hafford, 35

The week that Bobby Jo Hafford died, the 35-year-old diesel mechanic worked 60 hours. He lifted weights, too – a part of his regular routine.

At 5-foot-11 and 225 pounds, Bobby was physically fit. One of his bosses complained that if he took time off, he had to hire two people to replace him in order to get the same amount of work done.

But no amount of strength and self-discipline could help Bobby in his battle with heroin, especially since he hid his addiction from friends and family.

“He’s probably the strongest person I’ve ever known,” said his brother, Chris Hafford of Portland. “But he wasn’t nearly as strong as that stuff. Nobody is.”

Bobby was born in Fort Kent to a 15-year-old girl who remained in his life throughout his childhood, though he was raised by his grandparents. “Bobby kind of struggled with that,” said Sherry Hundley, the woman who gave birth to him and is now a restaurant manager living in Pennsylvania, “more so because after him I had more children who were living with me.”

His father was not involved in the family.

Chris Hafford said his brother, in many ways, was the most confident person he knew, “but I think he also deeply, deeply lacked self-worth and thought that he would always be abandoned and that he wasn’t good enough for people to love him.”

Helping and caring for others was second nature to Bobby. He fought off bullies who threatened his little brothers. Once, he spent four days tearing apart a chimney so he could rescue a duck that had fallen into it.

But addiction brought out another side to Bobby. He spent five years in jail after he and some friends robbed some homes, looking for money to pay for drugs.

He tried to get help, but his insurance wouldn’t pay for rehab. After asking friends for money, his mother ended up paying for his 90-day stay in Our Father’s House Recovery Center in Saco. The results didn’t last long.

Sherry was talking with Bobby on the phone on the day he overdosed in October 2015. There was a knock at the door, and he hung up so he could answer it. It was his dealer, delivering a fatal dose of heroin cut with fentanyl.



Ashley Rideout Customer service, 28


Early promise in poetry emanated from deep well of emotional pain

Ashley Rideout, 28

Ashley Rideout loved to draw, write poetry and compose song lyrics.

She loved poetry so much that she submitted her work to student competitions, and in 2001 one of her poems, “The Feelings I Felt/Feel,” about love and heartbreak, was published in a regional anthology.

Early on, Ashley dreamt of becoming a fashion designer. As she got older, she wanted to be a counselor.

Her dreams died on Oct. 18, 2015, when Ashley succumbed to an overdose of heroin and Xanax at the home she shared with her mother in China. She was 28.

Growing up in South China, Ashley was a busy kid. She took dance and karate lessons, and played basketball and softball. She earned high grades. She had only one detention in high school.

Her mother, Pammy Robinson, smiles recalling the story.

“She got a detention for tipping back in her chair. She didn’t fall. It’s funny to think about,” she said.

Underneath it all, Ashley was fighting emotional pain. She was sexually abused by her stepfather over the course of several years, and he was convicted and imprisoned. She suffered with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. She went to counseling and was prescribed Xanax.

The eldest of three children, Ashley struggled throughout her life with substance use. She had multiple stints in jail. Her addictions affected her relationships with family – especially her two young children, now 7 and 3 years old.

Ashley was the type of mom who liked to get on the floor and play with her kids. She would cook with her daughter, Harper, and do arts and crafts with her.

“She loved spending time with her kids when she was able to,” Robinson said.

Ashley spent most of her last year in jail. But every day, she still called her mother.

Now, Ashley’s mother visits her gravesite at Rest Haven Cemetery in Windsor. She brings her flowers and, in warmer months, does some weeding around her grave. Ashley’s daughter, Harper, releases balloons.



David Bridges Unemployed, 35


Nephews provided bright spots in an otherwise troubled life

David Bridges, 35

At the age of 12, David Bridges was sent to the Maine Youth Center for stealing. His family said he was strapped in a restraint chair for days at a time. He was pumped full of medications and became a cutter, slashing his arms with rocks or whatever sharp object he could find. When a new fence was built around the center to keep kids in, David was the first to climb over it.

When he finally left there at 20, he was no longer the boy who lived to make people laugh and loved helping his grandmother. He was a young man saddled with a drug addiction, fueled partly by pills he was prescribed for attachment disorder and bipolar disorder, and partly by illicit drugs smuggled into the youth center.

Cocaine, heroin, pills. He found himself on the wrong side of the law again and again, spending stints in jail or state prison for burglary, robbery and theft.

David spent more of his 35 years in jail than he did out of it.

But wherever he was, it was his sister, Jennifer, and three nephews who came first. His nephews were the bright spot in the life of a man who was always seeking escape and was haunted by the loss of his own father to a cocaine overdose.

When his first nephew was born, David was in jail. He got a copy of “The Little Red Hen” and recorded a video of himself reading it to his nephew. When he was out of jail and clean, he’d spend hours playing baseball and football with the boys.

“He wanted to be straight and be part of the boys’ lives in a positive way,” Jennifer said.

When they were kids growing up in the woods of Lyman, David and Jennifer would dart across the street and scramble up a big rock – the one they called The Rock – and spend hours talking and listening to the radio.

They’d catch frogs. Go fishing. Build treehouses.

As an adult, David struggled desperately to stay clean, but the pull of the drugs was too strong. After he died, his sister buried his ashes next to their father in a small plot near the woods they played in as children.

She goes there often, to sit with her brother and talk. Just as they did at The Rock.



Matthew McCarthy House painter, 24


Friend to many, young man was nevertheless plagued by low self-esteem

Matthew McCarthy, 24

Matthew McCarthy loved to read so much that his family buried him with his Kindle. Any Stephen King, all of Harry Potter. He had a book for every room of the house.

“He was a pretty smart cookie,” said his mother, Gail. When he got a “C” in sixth grade, he was devastated. “Bawling,” she remembers. Then he did the math (his best subject) and discovered on the graded test that the teacher had made an error. They went to the guidance counselor together to settle the matter. “It was a big deal to him," his mother said.

Matthew hated the thick glasses he had to wear until he had corrective surgery at age 20. He loved to go fishing but couldn’t bear to touch a fish directly; he suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder. He had plenty of friends – they’ve told his mother what a kind man and good listener he was – but nevertheless suffered from low self-esteem.

He was always a big boy, 300 pounds by high school, and that embarrassed him; in photos, he often put his hand up to shield himself from the camera’s gaze. His size was on his side in Hampden’s youth hockey league, where he played goalie. When he didn’t sign up for hockey senior year of high school, his mother wondered why. But he lost weight that year, 100 pounds, and she told herself, at least he’s healthy – not realizing that he had started using heroin.

After a drug charge involving marijuana when he was 19, Matthew had trouble finding work, even at the Pizza Hut where he’d happily worked in high school. So he joined his father, Barry, at Hussey Painting in Hampden, putting in long hours painting houses.

He adored his sister, Ashley, two years younger, and the childhood nickname he gave her, “Atty,” stuck with her into adulthood. He’d been the one who had picked her up after detox and tried to get her on Suboxone before her 2013 death from a methadone overdose, just 16 months before his own overdose death at age 24 in April 2015.

In his infancy, his mother couldn’t bear to put him down. “He was my second child," she said. “That’s how you’re supposed to be with your first.” But he was her teddy bear. Her own mother said to her, “My God, why don’t you put that baby down?”

During the ice storm of 1998, when the family was stuck inside for days, Matthew kept asking her to tell the story again, the one about the love so big and fierce even a grandmother couldn’t fathom it. And he’d smile.



Benjamin Boulay Retail, 27


Charismatic and funny, ‘he got away on his personality so much’

Benjamin Boulay, 27

Debbie White was at work when her phone rang. Her son, Ben Boulay, was calling from Leavitt Area High School in Turner.

“Is your back all right?” he asked, out of the blue.

“What are you talking about?” she replied.

“Your back,” he continued. “Does it feel OK?”


“Well,” he replied, “I just stepped on a crack, so ...”

Ben had a keen sense of humor. But his life was also shadowed by grief. He had a cousin who died from an aneurysm at 18, shortly after graduating from high school. Another friend, a classmate, died after falling from the back of a motorcycle.

Ben made it to age 27 before he died of a fentanyl overdose on May 27, 2015, leaving behind his pregnant wife, son and stepdaughter.

Growing up in Greene, Ben played football, hockey and baseball and made friends easily. The family hosted a Fresh Air Fund kid from New York City each summer, and Ben and another buddy would take him to ride bikes and go fishing.

“He was very charismatic,” White said. “He was really good at a lot of things if he gave it 100 percent. But he got away on his personality so much.”

His death ended years of addiction, including heroin. Ben experimented with alcohol and marijuana in high school and started taking pills during a post-graduate year at Kents Hill School in Readfield.

“He didn’t like the idea of his friends going on to college and him basically being held back that year,” his mother said. “Come to find out, that’s where it all started.”

Ben continued his drug use at Husson University in Bangor, where he lasted three semesters before dropping out. Back home, he found work in his father’s doughnut shops, tried outpatient therapy and went through two rehabilitation stints in New York and Michigan. Each time, he relapsed.

Eventually, he turned to methadone in hopes of breaking his addiction. He took it for two years.

“It seemed to do him good, other than sometimes he didn’t feel that great and he gained weight,” White said. “But he dealt with it for a couple years. When the overdose happened, he had been off the methadone for a month.”



Anthony Renna Jr. Disabled, 26


Despite debilitating problems, always a source of joy and support

Anthony Renna Jr., 26

Anthony Renna Jr. would lie face-down on the floor and let his young cousins draw on his bare back with markers. They would march toy dinosaurs and Army men across his back, and Tony would guess which toy was which.

He would spend hours playing with young family members, never tiring of entertaining them.

“He had a heart of gold,” said his mother, Wendy Roberts of Portland.

But Tony also struggled with mental health problems, which became entwined with addiction to drugs.

He was 26 when he died on July 23, 2016, of an overdose of cocaine, heroin and fentanyl. He struggled his whole life with mental health issues and substance abuse. He had five stays for mental health treatment at Spring Harbor Hospital in South Portland and three stays at the Riverview Psychiatric Center in Augusta. He also had multiple stints in jail.

His family stood by him. Tony lived with his grandmother, Christine DeDomenico, in her tiny apartment on Front Street in Portland. He was the oldest of her three grandchildren living there.

He was the man of the house – a steady support for DeDomenico and a role model for his younger cousins.

“He was just a very giving person. He was a good kid,” she said. “He did everything for me. He gave me joy in my life.”

Tony was popular in the neighborhood, and he had many friends.

At home, he accepted responsibilities for the house. He took out the trash, kept his room immaculate and swept the floors.

“He could cook a mean steak,” DeDomenico said, proudly noting that his steak tasted better than hers. “It made me feel good.”

Tony loved being with family. When he saw his mother, he would pick her up and swing her around and laugh and hug her. When he walked into his grandmother’s house, he would shout, ‘Hey, O.G.!’, his shorthand for “Old Grandma.”

Tony’s mental health issues and addictions progressed over the years. Four years ago, he moved out of his grandmother’s house. But he stayed close and continued to watch over her.

“I would give anything in my life for him to be running up the street right now,” she said. “Sick or not, I would.”



Coleen Singer Retail, health care, 32


On one woman’s self-destructive path, help was just out of reach

Coleen Singer, 32

Brent Singer met Coleen Clark when she was working as a stripper in Bangor.

She was 23 years younger than he was and had recently enrolled in a methadone program, her latest attempt at trying to shake heroin’s stubborn grip.

They weren’t supposed to work as a couple, but the ease of their conversation and her intellectual curiosity surprised him.

Still, he had no illusions about their future.

“I told her I thought she would get her life together and move away and find someone else and leave me in the dust,” he said, pushing back tears.

They got married in 2008, but it didn’t last. She was free-spirited and tempestuous. She could be girly-girl and tomboy in equal measures. She was goofy one minute and sullen the next. The things that drew him to her were the things that made it hard to live with her.

After a year, the two divorced but stayed in touch. When she needed help, which was often, she went to Singer. He always helped. Part of him wanted to be the one to save her, even if he wasn’t her husband any longer. But he didn’t fully understand the power of addiction in her life.

He last spoke to Coleen the night before she overdosed and died at age 32. It was Christmas Eve 2014. She had been arrested with three others on drug trafficking charges and needed bail money. She had no one else to call. Singer sent her the money for bail and a little extra so she could get transportation home. That money may have bought her final fix of heroin.

Singer has remarried. He said he doesn’t think of Coleen as often anymore, but he still has reminders, including a loose pile of pictures he keeps. One of his favorites was from her childhood. She’s sitting in a beauty salon chair with a wild pile of chestnut hair waiting to be cut. It was long before the complexity of her life would lead down a destructive path.

He wishes he could go back and warn her.



Gregory Lumbert Jr. Veteran, transportation, 32


Military veteran’s father says: ‘It was almost like he was in a hole’

Gregory Lumbert, 32

Greg Lumbert Jr. was only a junior at Gardiner High School when he made up his mind – he would be a Marine.

A year later, and seven days before he shipped out to boot camp, he watched the attacks of Sept. 11. It was a galvanizing moment for the nation, and for the young man from Pittston.

“It didn’t phase him a bit; he still wanted to go,” said his father, Greg Lumbert Sr., a deputy with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office. “It made us worry, big time.”

A fullback in high school, Greg was a sturdy 200 pounds when he went into the military, a country boy who was as comfortable on a four-wheeler or snowmobile as he was cutting trees. When he emerged from boot camp, it was as if he had been pressed and molded into a leaner version of himself.

As a combat engineer, he learned to operate heavy machinery and was stationed in Cherry Point, North Carolina, for the duration of his enlistment. But the Marines was also where Greg developed a work-hard, play-hard ethos that meant heavy drinking – a habit that was fed by an ill-fated marriage that petered out before he left the Marine Corps in 2005.

Greg Lumbert Sr. said his son also emerged with new psychological diagnoses that qualified him for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs after his discharge. Greg Jr. became extremely anxious and developed obsessive-compulsive disorder, debilitating conditions that prevented him from working consistently.

The diagnoses also meant scores of trips to the VA hospital at Togus. Round and round, Greg and his doctors went from medication to medication, never fully addressing his dual needs as someone with deep mental health and addiction problems.

“The VA is a candy store,” his father said. “Instead of looking at the root cause, it’s ‘Try this pill and come back in two months.’”

Over nearly a decade of addiction, Greg survived a stroke brought on by complications from drinking and tried to get clean more than a dozen times. But his medical issues and addiction only deepened. His frustration with his own illness and inability to get the help he needed was overwhelming. He was 32 when he overdosed inside a home in Gardiner on Sept. 18, 2015.

“It was almost like he was in a hole,” his father said. “He never thought he’d ever get over the top of it.”



Sarah Willard DeSalle Restaurant worker, 46


She inspired friendships and awe, yet struggled with self-esteem

Sarah Willard DeSalle, 46

While growing up in Portland, Sarah Willard DeSalle was seen as a kid who had a lot going for her. A good family. Lots of friends. A genial and generous personality. When a friend commented on her sexy fashion boots, Sarah gave them to her.

“I was in awe of her,” a close friend from middle school said. “She was one of the smartest kids I knew. Won the spelling bee. Got all the answers right on the science test.”

But Sarah also had a hard edge that she displayed to the outside world. Perhaps it was the trauma of her father dying when she was 6 years old. Maybe it was a lack of self-esteem or aspirations.

Sarah gave birth to a daughter in 1987 while still in high school. A boyfriend soon introduced her to heroin, according to her mother, Susanne Willard. That, her mother said, marked the beginning of a lifelong struggle that included at least one overdose, run-ins with police and a string of treatment programs.

Eventually, Sarah regained stability and some better years followed.

She moved to Florida with a man whose family owned a Portland restaurant. They married, and her daughter, who had been living with Susanne since she was 3, joined them in 2000.

But neck and back pain from a car accident and work mishap led Sarah to rely on painkillers. When she returned to Portland last year to help her mother recover from surgery, heroin beckoned. She died of an overdose of heroin and fentanyl in her mother’s house on May 11, 2016, at age 47.

On an online condolences page, she was remembered by some childhood friends.

“I went through middle and high school with her and she had a vibrant smile and laugh,” one friend wrote. “She will be missed. Heaven has taken another angel.”

At a sleepover, when Sarah and one of her friends were 13, the two girls talked about the future.

The friend was caught off-guard when Sarah said: “I don’t think I’m going to make it to 30.”

“She never really explained what she meant,” her friend recalled. “I think it speaks volumes of how she viewed her life. It sounds like she was feeling very defeated.”



Garrett T. Brown Building supply, 21


His mom says the help this young rebel needed wasn’t in jail

Garrett T. Brown, 21

Community service started as something Garrett Brown had to do to meet probation requirements after getting in trouble with the law. But after he met his required hours, Garrett, who always loved to be busy, would stay involved with the organizations where he volunteered, whether it was the Kennebec Valley YMCA or Maine Greyhound Placement Services in Augusta.

“He never wanted to get done,” said Garrett’s mother, Traci Brown. “If you could get paid to volunteer, I would have never seen him.”

A troublemaker with a rebellious streak since a young age, Garrett had a particular talent for being able to make his mother laugh and simultaneously drive her crazy.

She laughs at the memory of a trip to the beach in Cape Cod with Garrett in 2012. He stuck his hand in the ocean and licked it.

Garrett’s drug use started around 2013, and his mother can name at least four occasions when he overdosed, including one time when, after he was revived, he was taken from the hospital to the jail.

“He didn’t need jail; he needed rehab,” she said. “They can detox in jail, sure, but they need rehab.”

A few months before his death at age 21, Garrett – who earned the nickname “Chicken” from friends because of the eyeglasses that made him look like the cartoon character Chicken Little – started working at Huttig Building Products, a building supply store in Augusta. It was the perfect fit for him because he had always loved woodworking and building things.

After he didn’t show up for work one day in November 2015, police found his body in a shed outside his aunt’s house, a single-dose package of heroin and a rolled-up dollar bill beside him.

“He was my only child,” Traci Brown said. “Now I get to sit with his urn and his picture. People say ‘Aren’t you over it?’ and I guess it’s one of those things I have to get used to.”



Mikey Fielders Landscaping, auto body work, 31


A thoughtful, loving son and grandson – that’s who they remember

Mikey Fielders, 31

Mikey Fielders was dedicated to his grandparents. He had lived with them in Kittery on and off since he graduated from Marshwood High School in South Berwick. He loved them fiercely, especially his grandpa, and the feeling was mutual.

As Hollis and Barbara Tapley aged, he did more for them: cleaned the house, prepared medications, cooked meals, mowed the lawn, weeded the garden, shoveled snow, ran errands. Before he left for work – usually a car detailing or landscaping job – he’d set up the coffee maker so it would be fresh and hot when they got up.

“Then he’d call them midday to make sure everything was OK and see if he could get them anything on his way home,” his mother, Cindy Fielders, recalled.

That’s the thoughtful, loving son Cindy and Mike Fielders would rather remember. The boy who kept his room tidy, disliked fighting or shouting, and stuck up for kids who were bullied at school, even though he faced his own challenges with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The man who loved his two young children and wanted to get clean so he could regain custody and make his parents proud.

The trouble started in 2009, when he was run over by a plow truck in a workplace accident that left him with chronic back and abdominal pain. He went to a pain management clinic for a year before his workers’ compensation benefits ran out and left him with a Percocet addiction. He turned to the street to score drugs he could no longer get legally.

He never stole from family members, but he shoplifted regularly and eventually turned to heroin. He got caught walking out of Sears carrying a wide-screen TV without paying for it and went to jail a few times for his habit. He got clean for about a year, then had a rollover accident with his kids in the car and lost custody of them to his parents.

“Anybody who knew Mikey knew that wasn’t Mikey,” his father said. “It was the drug. He really didn’t want the life he was having, but he couldn’t get the help that he needed.”

Mikey Fielders was 31 when he died on Nov. 3, 2015, of a fentanyl-laced heroin overdose. He had just completed a three-day detox that he had arranged, hoping to reunite with his children. When he couldn’t get a rehab bed immediately, he returned to his room at his grandparents’ house.

On the night he died, he came home from a Narcotics Anonymous meeting, went up to his room and shot up for the last time. When he didn’t come down the next day, his family knocked down the door and found him, a needle by his side.



Ernie Paterno Glass blower, 45


A glass blower, passionate about art and music and teaching others

Ernie Paterno, 45

Ernie Paterno was a professional glass blower, trained in the complex, classical style that developed in Venice in the 13th century. His technical skills were well-known within Portland’s arts community, and artists sought him out when they ran into trouble turning their own visions into reality.

He could connect to anyone, from high school students to retirees. As a teacher at the Maine College of Art and in private lessons, he helped people find the same passion for glass art that he had.

That passion extended to music. Ernie played the bass guitar, loved bands like Black Sabbath and The Cure, and played in local bands such as Toxic Shock, Baked Carrots, Maybel’s Jellybeans and Lashes. To pay the bills, he restored and rented houses.

But the greatest loves of Ernie’s life were his wife, Jill Dalton, and daughter, Aela. Before his daughter was born, Ernie didn’t know if he wanted to be a father, but as soon as Aela entered his life he became her best friend.

Even with all of his responsibilities, though, Ernie nursed a quiet drug habit. His brother was an addict and died from substance abuse, and Dalton thinks Ernie was predisposed to it.

“It seemed like it was already in their makeup,” she said.

Ernie was exposed to prescription painkillers years ago, when he got an opioid medication to treat pain from a kidney stone. When the prescription ran out, he started to feel bad, and it was a friend, not a doctor, who told Ernie he was going through withdrawal.

“The medical industry doesn’t prepare their patients for what they are giving them,” Dalton said.

He got more opioids later, for chronic foot pain and injuries from a car accident. When his prescriptions ran out, he found someone who had extra pills. He entered treatment programs but relapsed.

The last relapse happened after Ernie lost his glass kiln in a gas accident and couldn’t afford to rebuild it.

“That was one of the steps in his downward spiral, the heart of his studio being shut off,” Dalton said.

“What a dark path for someone with so much light and energy and passion. To see the will drained out of him, someone at that age should not be going through that struggle.”

Ernie was 45 when he overdosed on April 16, 2016. He was in his studio.



Shauna Poirier Disabled, 33


Transgender woman sought acceptance, but strayed to self-harm

Shauna Poirier, 33

Shauna Poirier was born Shaun.

She was a girl in a boy’s body, and by the time she was 12 years old, in 1993, she was living as a female.

“As a teenager she had a hard time, because she was transgender before there was any knowledge about transgender; her classmates, community – she didn’t feel accepted, and I felt her pain,” said her mother, Melissa Poirier. “I think she turned to medication as a way to deal with that as early as 13 or 14.”

Shauna’s father wasn’t around to feel her pain. He was sentenced to 60 years in prison for murder when Shauna was 5.

With her friends and other family members, Shauna did have some good times during her childhood. She loved to go camping at West Forks and Jackman, or swimming and playing in the sand in Old Orchard Beach and Pemaquid.

As she got older, Shauna volunteered at the High Hopes Clubhouse, a program in Waterville that provides employment services and community support to people with mental health challenges.

But Shauna had trouble with school and finding a career path for herself as she grappled with the transition to being the woman she knew she was, and the social hostility she encountered.

Throughout her teens and into her 20s she struggled with drugs and alcohol. Her mother said she sought attention and validation, but strayed toward self-harm. She took hormones to begin the transition to becoming a woman but could not afford surgery.

In 2007, Shauna was badly beaten by a man in Portland who responded to an online ad she posted. Her injuries, including a broken ankle, led first to legal prescription painkillers and ultimately to heroin.

She enrolled in treatment programs, including residential care, and tried to stop using drugs, but she couldn’t. Her need for money to buy drugs led to arrests for burglary and theft.

Shauna died in her Skowhegan apartment on March 15, 2015, of a lethal dose of alcohol, Xanax and oxycodone. She was 33.

“I miss her,” her mother said. “She was funny. She had a twinkle in her eye. She loved us.”



Randy Ouellette Bartender, 42


He thrived in Portland’s gay community, but his struggle endured

Randy Ouellette, 42

Randy Ouellette could stand in front of a crowd and belt out a song by Cher, or give a spot-on impression of Karen from the TV sitcom “Will & Grace.”

A popular bartender at Blackstones, a gay nightspot in Portland, Randy would spark conversations with anyone on a range of subjects, including politics and religion. He DJ’d in clubs across Greater Portland, and was known for dropping beats that crowded the dance floor.

Randy thrived on being part of Portland’s nightlife. But his home life was unraveling. He struggled, often privately, with depression, low self-esteem and body-image issues. He turned to alcohol and drugs to cope. He died of an overdose on Jan. 29, 2017, alone in his apartment in South Portland. The family is still waiting for official toxicology results, but they say the drug that killed him was probably heroin. He was 42.

Randy was openly gay and well-known in Portland’s LGBTQ community. About 200 people turned out for his funeral in February.

His cousin, Angela Fauth, gave a eulogy that elicited both laughter and tears from mourners.

“As a kid, he preferred to watch soap operas with his grandmother,” Fauth said. “Trust me when I say it was blatantly obvious to me even back then. ... He loved to pretend he was a rich socialite. Sometimes he would turn us into characters from ‘General Hospital.’ ”

As Randy got older, he pulled away from his family. He fought depression as he tried to come to terms with his sexual identity. Randy spent those years working in restaurants and bars, drinking heavily and dabbling with drugs. He eventually came out as gay around the age of 27.

In 2004, he left the restaurant industry to work for six years with his parents, Chris and Beverly Crawford, owners of the former Conroy-Tully Crawford Funeral Homes.

He later became a certified drug and alcohol abuse counselor. He worked briefly at Our Father’s Recovery House in Saco.

“I really think he liked helping people,” his father said. “He felt he could give something back.”

In 2014, Randy was devastated when his mother died of cancer. He again turned to alcohol and drugs to cope.

When Randy overdosed, he was found with 100 or so pictures of his mother. Crucifixes and religious pictures, testaments to his devout Catholicism, were scattered throughout the apartment.



Utopia Brooks Retail, 18


Fearless teen was determined to escape a life of drugs in Sanford

Utopia Brooks, 18

Utopia Brooks had the heart of a poet. She wrote in detail on Facebook, quoting writers such as Jorge Luis Borges. She shared her own words, explaining in a post how her father taught her about “family. And what it means to love.”

She stood 5 feet tall, but her sense of worth was large. At 18, she was bold and opinionated.

“She and her mom are small but have big personalities,” said Sam Dunton, her mother’s husband.

But there were big problems, too, with alcohol and drugs in Utopia’s family. Her mother, Lynn Brown, developed an addiction to OxyContin. For a year and a half, Utopia and her siblings were in foster care. She and her mother later reconnected, and when Brown sent her a text expressing her happiness at being in recovery and sober for three years, Utopia texted right back: “Love you mom. Proud of you.”

Utopia once worked at McDonald’s, where she would rise eagerly at 2 a.m. to begin her early shift, even when she wanted a more challenging job, Brown said. When she was hired at Lord’s Clam Box, a popular Sanford seafood restaurant, Utopia felt her life shift. She worked behind the register, but hoped to get a spot in the kitchen someday because she loved to cook.

Utopia wanted to leave Sanford, where she felt drugs were too easy to get, and planned to move in with her boyfriend. She told Brown she imagined a happy future, a healthy home. She wanted to be a mother.

“She had dreams,” Brown said. “She told me, ‘Mom, I’m getting out of this area.’ She was focused on getting out.”

Getting out meant getting away from drugs, and Utopia struggled with that. She had a history of using painkillers like oxycodone, which were first provided to her by another relative, Brown said. How much she used heroin is unclear.

She died after taking drugs in her boyfriend’s apartment on July 3, 2016. Tests at the hospital failed to identify exactly which drug it was that killed her. The overdose came two weeks before her 19th birthday.

In one of her Facebook posts, Utopia noted that her mother encouraged her to stand tall, even through pain.

“Really, my mommy taught me to be strong," she wrote. “And stubborn. That even if you don’t think you can make it, try anyway.”



Jeffrey Proulx Movie theater attendant, 33


His young children only know ‘he’s never coming home again’

Jeffrey Proulx, 33

Jeff Proulx was a movie buff, and while he worked part-time at Smitty’s Theaters in Biddeford he loved being the first to see new films and learn about their stars. There’s evidence of that on his Facebook page, where he posted images of Batman, Darth Vader, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other well-known characters.

“He loved his movies,” said his girlfriend, Kayla Tinkham.

She said he also was a good father and loved his two children, a son, Anakin, and a daughter, Khloe.

A photo on Jeff’s still-active Facebook page shows him holding Anakin as the two stand in an above-ground pool. Other photos depict him either partying with friends or playing with Khloe.

Tinkham says she doesn’t really know when or how she will tell Jeff’s children that their father died from a heroin overdose. For now they are too young to understand. His son will be 3 in July, and his daughter turns 10 next year.

“They know he’s never coming home again,” Tinkham said. “That’s about all, they know that but don’t know why.” She says she will tell them someday, when she thinks they are ready.

Jeff was 33 when he died in July 2015 of an overdose of heroin and fentanyl, but Tinkham said he was not a drug addict. She believes that may have been the first time he used heroin, because his problem was really alcohol.

That problem was so severe that Jeff had been in and out of jail for crimes related to alcohol abuse. His blood alcohol content was .278 when he died, Tinkham said. That’s more than three times Maine’s legal limit for operating a car.

She said some of what hurts most in this second year after Jeff’s death is that many of the people he was with on the night of his overdose were his friends, and they did little to try to revive him.

“These are people that we had Thanksgiving dinner with,” Tinkham said. “We were family.”

She doesn’t think of them as family anymore. She said what people need to know is that heroin is indiscriminate, and even trying the drug one time can be one time too many.

“It can happen to anybody, and it can take just one time,” she said.



Darrell "D.C." Clapper Unemployed, 29


Storyteller used to make his mother smile – until the stories changed

D.C. Clapper, 29

Growing up, Darrell Clapper told stories that often brought a smile to his mother’s face.

There was the time he went fishing with his father on Swan Lake and returned home to tell her, “I only caught a small fish,” but she could see behind his back the tail of a large one dragging on the ground.

“I said, ‘Oh really?’” said his mother, Janet Ely of Belfast. “He was a really big storyteller.”

Another time, he insisted to a teacher that his family had moved to Maine from Egypt. The teacher called Ely, bewildered and seeking an explanation.

“I said: ‘Nope, I have no idea where he came up with it,’” she said. “He was a good storyteller. He told a lot of stories.”

Darrell, known to his family as D.C., was defined by his love of the outdoors – of fishing, camping and swimming, his mother said.

“He told me he worked on a boat for a short period of time and he loved it,” she said. “He was an outdoor boy.”

The youngest of four children that Ely raised as a single mother, D.C. was her “wild child.” His mother said that because of his mixed-race heritage, he was bullied by his schoolmates and dropped out at a young age. He started abusing pills and alcohol, she said.

Over time the stories he told changed. Instead of bringing a smile to his mother’s face, they brought tears.

He told her he needed new boots but sold them for drug money. He told his father he needed a new laptop but sold that, too.

He told his mother he was taking pain pills because of a hernia surgery, but she isn’t sure whether he ever really had the surgery. When D.C. died of an overdose in December 2015 at the age of 29, Ely said they hadn’t spoken in months.

D.C. left behind three children – all younger than 8. At his mother’s house, a picture shows him and his son smiling at the Bangor Fair, with D.C. holding his young daughter in his arms. Another family photo was taken in 2011, shortly after the first time his mother ever knew that he had overdosed. There’s also a picture of him wearing sunglasses behind the wheel of a car; she likes this one because “he looks so cool.”

If not for his addiction, Ely said she thinks D.C. would have been a fisherman or a carpenter.

“I think he would have been a really good dad,” she said.



Molly Parks Restaurant worker, 24


A father’s grief keeps young woman’s light bright, showing the way

Molly Parks, 24

Not long after Tom Parks buried his oldest daughter, Molly, in April 2015, someone had to collect her things from the Manchester, New Hampshire, apartment where she had been living.

Tom couldn’t do it himself, but other members of his extended family loaded everything into his old Volkswagen Vanagon. They delivered it to Parks’ home in Saco. The pile of belongings has been stored in a shed ever since. Tom still hasn’t sifted through it.

“I’m afraid because I think when I finally do go through it, that will be the end,” he said.

Molly had sold or pawned many valuable items – a laptop, a digital camera – to get money for heroin.

But she kept other things, like her keyboard, her class ring and her collection of American Girl dolls.

“Maybe they reminded her of easier times,” her father said of the dolls.

Molly did well in school, but not too well. She was a natural musician but quit band in high school.

“Band wasn’t cool. Getting good grades wasn’t cool,” Tom said. “She was a follower.”

When he thinks of her now, Tom tries to forget the way her life ended at age 24 in the spring of 2015 – inside a bathroom at the restaurant where she worked, with a needle in her arm.

He thinks instead about her being on stage, acting or singing. He thinks of her watching old movies and reading Harry Potter books. He thinks about her laugh, which was really a giggle.

What made her laugh?

“Everything,” he said.

Some days, Tom can’t get out of his own way. The grief and the depression paralyze him. But he tries to talk about Molly whenever he can. And he doesn’t gloss over the bad stuff.

About three months after Molly died, a former classmate of hers reached out to Tom. She wanted to tell him that his frank admission of Molly’s addiction in her obituary had moved her.

The young woman checked into rehab. She has been clean for more than a year.



Evan Richard Artist, musician, 23


Spirit of collaboration and altruism gave a budding artist purpose

Evan Richard, 23

An artist and musician, Evan Richard worked to combine both of his passions into a singular artistic expression. He volunteered at Space Gallery and worked at the Art Mart, and encouraged collaborations among artists.

“Evan had a way of bringing people together,” said his mother, Mary Beth Richard. “A friend who had worked with Evan on some local projects told me how he was able to get people who would not work together in the past to put aside their differences and come together to collaborate on ideas and events.”

She suspects his altruistic sense had sprung from a visit to the Grand Canyon with his family when he was kid.

The summer Evan turned 11, his parents packed their car and took a cross-country drive. They stopped at many places along the way, including the Grand Canyon, where the family learned about the Havasupai Indian tribe.

Mary Beth and Jerome Richard wanted to expose their children to different places, different people and different lifestyles.

When he was in high school, Evan wrote about white privilege and expressed concern that the Indian kids he met in Arizona would never have the same opportunities to improve their lives as he would have.

Evan’s mother found that piece of writing recently while going through his belongings. Evan died April 2, 2016, from acute fentanyl intoxication. He was 23, and had been living for two years in Portland, where he died in the house he shared with several friends.

Evan moved to Maine after spending a year in Seattle, where his parents suspect he was exposed to drugs heavier than marijuana. They don’t think he was a heavy user, and Mary Beth Richard said her son’s friends expressed shock that he died from an overdose.

His parents, who live in Saco, are trying to learn all they can, to keep another tragedy from happening.

“We wanted to know why, and we want to know how we missed it,” Jerome Richard said. “Because we’ve got two other kids. And you don’t want to lose those, too, to something like this.”



Joshua Damsell Restaurant worker, 37


He worked hard and played harder, with an eye on escaping life

Joshua Damsell, 37

Joshua Damsell spent much of his life just trying to cope.

His mother, who was mentally ill, died of a brain tumor when he was 7. The eldest of three children, Joshua was placed in a foster home in Massachusetts. His father, who is a recovering addict, was in prison at the time.

Joshua was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder at 14, around the time he became a freshman at Portsmouth High School in New Hampshire. He played football and baseball and by the end of his first season was a full-fledged jock.

At 6 feet tall he was popular and strong. He was stubborn, too, and really angry.

Joshua dyed his hair green at 15 and got a Mohawk. He pierced his own ears, wore a leather jacket and Doc Martin boots.

“He went from an average, quiet, unobtrusive kid in the background to, ‘Look at me with my green Mohawk,’” said his father, David Damsell. Embarrassed, he took his son to the barber for a buzz cut.

Joshua – in teen rebel fashion – grew his hair out and dyed it again. He quit playing sports and immersed himself in online video games – Xbox and PlayStation. He was in his element. The video games, along with alcohol and drugs, helped him escape from life.

He moved into an alternative education program during high school that led to an apprenticeship as a mechanic at a garage. He learned how to replace brakes and change oil.

Joshua always worked. He was a mechanic, a landscaper, a construction laborer, and spent time in the restaurant business. He was a dishwasher (his favorite job), a busboy and a line cook. He worked at a few Portland restaurants, including DiMillo’s.

He worked and played video games. He drank and took drugs. He dabbled in heroin.

Joshua died of an overdose of pure fentanyl in June 2016. He was 37. He was holding a video game controller in one hand and had a needle in the other arm. His father thinks he died two days earlier, alone.

“I just loved my son,” he said. “He was beautiful. He didn’t know it, but he was. He was strong and he was smart. He was my son... really, that was it. He was mine.”



Shane Mills Landscaping, 30


Horrible trauma scarred him, but addiction robbed him of his life

Shane Mills, 30

Shane Mills was the son who always listened to his father. Growing up the second of four boys in Arundel, he didn’t talk back. He wasn’t a fighter. But when he was 13, Shane found himself in the fight of his life.

He was playing paintball with his friends when one of them, in one of those adolescent moments, started horsing around and filled a bag with gasoline, then lit it on fire. Shane tried to stomp it out, but he caught fire and was burned over 75 percent of his body.

After his parents arrived at the hospital, a nurse came in crying. Shane wasn’t supposed to survive. He spent two months in a coma and endured so many skin grafts and surgeries that his father lost count.

“He didn’t want to live,” said his father, Mike Mills. “He looked like a little old man.”

As his burns started to heal – leaving Shane scarred from his chin to his toes and often in pain – his family noticed a difference in the guy who loved to draw, hang out with friends and play disc golf.

He was a little more angry, a little less mellow.

He began experimenting with drugs, marijuana at first, then harder stuff.

Shane left school without graduating and started a landscaping business. There was a financial settlement from his accident, and Shane didn’t have to work, but he wanted to help his brothers.

His drug use continued, and he got hooked on heroin. There were times when he was clean and stretches when he wasn’t. Still, Shane was a good person, the kind of loyal guy who would do anything for you, his father said.

Even in the midst of his battle with addiction, Shane’s world revolved around his two children, Lillian and Kaiden. He wore their names inked over his scars.

Shane died two days after his 30th birthday, alone in a home on the family property where he was raised.

After his death, his family planted a small memorial tree in the backyard, surrounded by rocks covered with messages from the people who loved him the most.

Wedged between two branches sits one small rock, covered with green scribbles: A simple message to Daddy from a son too young to write his own name.



Corey Coburn Restaurant worker, 28


A protective best friend, he went out of his way to make others smile

Corey Coburn, 28

Corey Coburn loved to watch the "Chucky" horror movies with his younger sister – and then scare her when she tried to go to sleep. He would creep into her dark room and pretend he was Chucky the demonic doll.

“I would run out of the room screaming, thinking I was going to be attacked by Chucky,” said his sister, Meghan Stuart. “He liked to do stuff like that. Naturally he terrorized us on sleepovers.”

Yet Corey himself was afraid of the dark.

His mother, Heidi-Sue Stuart, described coming home after dark to find Corey there and all the lights blazing.

“Every light in the house,” she said. “He was even afraid of Santa Claus.”

Corey taught himself how to play the guitar and other musical instruments, putting together a band that would play heavy metal music almost nightly in the garage of his parents’ Lisbon home. He could take a computer apart and rebuild it. He found spirituality in the outdoors and loved to go hiking with his friends.

He was, his sister said, a best friend to everyone.

“He was very protective,” she said. “He would always try to steer us in the right direction. He always looked out for other people, more than himself.”

But Corey’s life changed in March 2009, when he was seriously injured in a car accident and underwent a series of operations to repair damage to his face. He spent six months on prescription painkillers, which set him on a path of addiction that he could not shake. He died of a drug overdose on Nov. 14, 2015. He was found by his mother in his bedroom at their home. He was 28.

He worked at The Lamp, an Alzheimer’s care facility in Lisbon, and would play the piano – another instrument he taught himself – for the residents. He was working at Richard’s Restaurant in Brunswick when he died. He was hoping to be a chef someday.

Corey also liked to do impersonations, especially of characters on the "South Park" cartoon.

“If someone was feeling down,” said his sister, “he would go out of his way to make them smile.”

He loved Chinese food, tacos and, most of all, chocolate.

“He would go into my room, because he knew I had chocolate there, and he would find it all,” his mother said.



Matthew Fecteau House painter, 27


Devoted to his family, even as ‘the drugs took his dreams away’

Matthew Fecteau, 31

As his little sister shrieked on the living room couch, consumed by night terrors brought on by opioid abuse, Matthew Fecteau was determined to get her help.

“‘We really have to do something for her,’" his mother, Cathy, recalled him pleading. “He couldn’t stand it.”

Although Matthew struggled with his own addiction, which had consumed half his young life at that point, all he could think of was Lizzy.

But that was Matthew: utterly devoted to his family, especially his siblings.

You can see his round toddler face staring up from many of Lizzy’s baby pictures; from the start he insisted on taking part in every aspect of her care.

As he got older, he’d shrug off praise from friends and family awed by his feats on the baseball field, then bring his game to a halt to run to the diamond next door and cheer on his older brother, Patrick.

But when they speak of him today, Matthew’s family mostly talk of dreams deferred. He had wanted to be a lawyer, a nutritionist and a fitness trainer at different times.

“The drugs took his dreams away,” said his father, Lucien.

Matthew was in the sixth grade when he tried marijuana for the first time. He was only 13 when a friend’s mother introduced him to pills.

From then on his life was a blur punctuated by stints in jail or rehab. In moments of sobriety he would return to his family and be the quiet homebody regarding his own behavior with alarm.

“When you’re using, your morals are flushed down the toilet,” he told his mother with clear-eyed candor.

Then the call of the drugs, the neighborhood dealers or even his siblings would drag him back into darkness. He overdosed at least four times before his fatal overdose at age 27 in July 2016.

As his family looked for a photo for his memorial, they settled on one that seemed to show Matthew at his best.

It was May 2015 and Matthew stood smiling shyly as he held up the largest fish he’d ever caught. Patrick had come up empty that day so the brothers posed together, each with a finger locked into the big fish’s mouth. A team again, if only for a blissful afternoon.



Cory Boissonneault-Fontaine Machine operator, 29


An earnest young man’s journey to a $1,200-a-week habit

Cory Boissonneault-Fontaine, 29

Even as a teenager testing his limits, Cory Boissonneault-Fontaine was earnest and polite.

Like the time he snuck out of the house late one night to walk a few miles to a friend who lived across town in Biddeford. Instead of trying to sneak back in, he left his parents a note. He didn’t want anyone to worry.

“It was, ‘I know you’re going to be mad at me, but this is where I am,’” said his father, Gary. “He knew right from wrong and he had a conscience.”

Gary Fontaine said he raised his son to earn independence by respecting rules and living up to expectations. They rarely fought, and friction between parent and child was rare.

Born and raised mostly in Biddeford, Cory lived within walking distance of Biddeford High School during his teen years. It was a convenience that could not be ignored during the young man’s lunchtime. With his friends in tow, he would escape school grounds to raid the family refrigerator.

And on the day he got his license, Cory embraced his newfound independence by planting himself behind the wheel of a lumbering 1982 Buick LeSabre to drive 55 miles to Amesbury, Massachusetts. He wanted to go see a girl.

Well-liked and easygoing, Cory was good with customers at his parents’ gas station, where he started working at age 12. After high school, he enlisted in the Air National Guard, where he acquired training in heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Military service was supposed to be a gateway to education benefits, but after leaving his training, Cory fell into the “work trap,” his father said.

After a false start with a heating company, he eventually landed a job at the General Dynamics plant in Saco, where his father was a manager. It was a good-paying position with great benefits, and it kept him close to his parents.

But as much as the proximity was comfortable, it gave his father an early warning of Cory’s spiral into addiction. His attendance at work flagged. He made plenty of money, but was borrowing cash from his parents. By the time they learned of the full scope of Cory’s addiction, he was spending upward of $1,200 a week on prescription opiates, and then heroin.

The sly, earnest teenager who always came clean to his parents had turned into a master manipulator of the people who loved him the most, stealing from them to support his habit. After multiple overdoses and attempts to stop using drugs, Cory looked like he had found a path out. He got a job at a metal fabricating shop, but two weeks later, on the day he had cashed his first paycheck, he was found unresponsive on a rest stop bathroom floor in Kittery. He was 29 years old.



Michelle Olds Veteran, disabled, 50


An addict’s daughter seemed to have the deck stacked against her

Michelle Olds, 50

Michelle Olds came into the world on her father’s birthday. She wound up sharing his propensity for addiction, too.

His drug of choice was alcohol. She found comfort in opioids. He lasted until 71. A year later, on March 3, 2016, she died of an overdose in the bathtub of her Lewiston home. She was 50.

The deck seemed stacked against her from the start. When she was 3 and riding in a car with her grandfather, he slammed on the brakes to avoid an accident. She flew into the dashboard and struck her head on the radio knobs.

“When we brought her to the hospital,” said her mother, Rachel Olds, “they said they couldn’t give her anesthesia because of where it was located. So I had to hold her down, her legs and her arms, while they gave her the stitches.”

Her mother said Shelly’s personality changed after that, and she was no longer as happy.

She loved to play outside with her brother Michael, not quite a year older. In the summer they climbed trees. When Michael was 11, he climbed to the top of a chestnut tree. On his descent, he touched a power line and was electrocuted.

“When he passed,” his mother said, “she started downhill with depression and she never came out of it.”

Shelly was bullied at Lewiston High School, so she transferred to Edward Little High in Auburn. She worked in a supermarket and a plastics factory, then decided to enlist in the Air Force, where she trained as a medical technician.

On a base in Oklahoma, seeking relief from a migraine, she accepted from a colleague a shot of Stadol, an opioid pain medication.

“That’s when it started,” Rachel Olds said. “I don’t know what is the truth and what isn’t the truth, because I wasn’t there, but I do know she told me that after that, she was always looking for her (next) high.”

Shelly served in Korea and Florida, where, her mother says, she was raped by an ex-boyfriend, who was also in the military. She returned to Maine, was in and out of rehab and ran afoul of the police for drug possession and shoplifting.

She took in cats and a dog named Hook. She spoke of opening an animal rescue operation. “She was a good kid, she really was,” her mother said. “You’d have liked her.”



Christopher Gerry Medical marijuana grower, 37


Deadly words to a kind soul in pain: ‘Take this... you’ll feel good’

Christopher Gerry, 37

For most of his 37 years, Chris Gerry was an easygoing beer-and-pot kind of guy.

He ran a medical marijuana growing business, was quick with a smile and generous to a fault. Chris followed bands like Phish and the Grateful Dead around the country, went to marijuana festivals and hung out with lifelong friends in the Waterville area.

With his long hair and goatee, his friends sometimes called him “Baby Jesus,” and his family joked that the father of two was the “baby whisperer” who could soothe any child.

“He was a kind soul. He really was,” said his mother, Vickie Jacques.

After decades of marijuana use, his life quickly spun out of control last year after he took OxyContin at a party. He died of a heroin overdose on his 37th birthday on Aug. 12, 2016, as Jacques drove over to see him after work.

“I never in a million years thought I’d find him on the floor dead on his birthday,” Jacques said, sobbing.

Chris had gotten out of a detox program about 45 days earlier but had returned straight to his old life. Jacques said his troubles started three years ago, when his beloved grandmother and father died within weeks of each other, sparking a depression that never quite lifted.

When he couldn’t afford the OxyContin anymore, he started snorting heroin. Within months he was sitting at his mother’s kitchen table, telling her he was at “rock bottom.” She drove him to the hospital, walked him into the ER, and he spent the next three days detoxing, followed by weeks of therapy and medical appointments.

Jacques asked him once why he would use drugs. “He said, ‘Mom, you don’t start out thinking you’re going to get addicted... You go to a party and someone is like, ‘Here: Take this pill. You’ll feel good,’” she said.

After his death, his sister, Erika Curtis, composed a brutally honest obituary, increasingly common for people who die from addiction.

“Let’s not let his death be in vain,” she wrote. “If yourself or someone you love is addicted to heroin, please say something or ask for help.”



Jesse Gorman Carpenter, 31


A perfectionist buoyed by love of family but beset by inner demons

Jesse Gorman, 31

There are signs of Jesse Gorman throughout Deborah and Keith Gorman’s home in Westbrook. A meticulous finish carpenter, he did several renovation projects for his parents. He replaced one door with particular care.

“He kept redoing the molding around it until it was perfect,” his mother remembered. “He was like that with everything. I think that’s one of the things that drove him crazy, because nobody’s perfect.”

The Gormans’ home is also where Jesse overdosed on heroin and cocaine on Jan. 18, 2015. It happened during an NFL playoff party. Everyone else was in the kitchen making tacos. They found him in his bedroom. His father, a former city councilor, got him breathing again with CPR, but he never regained consciousness.

Jesse died Feb. 5, 2015, at Gosnell Memorial Hospice House in Scarborough after spending three weeks at Maine Medical Center in Portland. He was 31 and left behind a wife and two young children.

It was a traumatic conclusion to more than 15 years of turmoil surrounding Jesse’s drug use that drained his parents emotionally and financially. Multiple treatment programs started when he was 16, but they did little to tame mental health challenges that his mother saw as a root cause.

It wasn’t always so hard.

“I couldn’t keep my hands off him when he was first born,” Deborah Gorman recalled. “Neither could Keith. We just thought that he was the most wonderful thing that walked the face of this Earth.”

But permissiveness led to out-of-control behavior, skipping school, stealing his mother’s prescription medication and badgering his parents for money, even as an adult.

“I gave him so much money,” she said. “He used to make $700 or $800 a week as a carpenter. By Monday morning I had to pack his lunch because it was all gone, all on drugs.”

They saw a glimmer of the attentive family man he could be when he was on methadone for three years, but then the state dropped him from the program. Still, in the moment, he loved his family intensely.

“He loved me so much. He would hug me so tight that I’d say, ‘Let me go, you’re hurting me,’” Deborah Gorman said, laughing. “He just loved me, and I loved him.”



Shawn Robbins Musician, restaurant worker, 26


A rapper, a friend, a rebel who couldn’t escape drug’s allure

Shawn Robbins, 26

Shawn Robbins could be tough on the outside, but he had a soft spot for people in need.

When he died at 26 in his Bangor apartment on Sept. 28, 2015 of an overdose of heroin and fentanyl, his friends were shocked and saddened – so much so that several sought treatments for their own addictions.

“Shawn’s death has saved lives,” said his stepfather, Larry Busque.

Growing up in Augusta, Shawn was rambunctious, loved to play sports – especially soccer – and had a mischievous sense of humor.

He started getting into trouble at age 11, fell in with a tough crowd as a teenager and dropped out of school. He began using drugs, developed an addiction and moved out of his mom and stepfather’s house at 16.

As he got older, Shawn was drawn to hip-hop culture and rapped as MC Dro. He was only 5 feet 5 inches tall – but made up for it by being tough, which sometimes led to fights.

“He had a Napoleon complex,” his mother, Roberta Busque, said.

He was arrested several times and would lie to or steal from his parents to get money to buy painkillers or heroin. For a time he lived in a dilapidated trailer, without food or heat, and scrounged money to get high.

After that experience, Shawn wanted to get clean. He moved in with his sister in Portland, and later his father in Florida. But he couldn’t shake his addiction, despite the family’s best efforts.

A Florida court order put him in rehab and he stayed clean for a while, but old habits came back.

His sister, Shannon Searles, worried that he would overdose, and that their father just couldn’t handle that.

“I told him to his face: ‘You are going to end up killing yourself, and I will never forgive you,’ ” she said.

Shawn was generous, too. He would give money to strangers on the street who were hungry, even though he had little money for himself, his mother said.

In 2015 Shawn moved back to Maine, again to escape the lure of drugs. His family knew it was a bad choice – everyone Shawn knew was still getting high and they feared he would be sucked back in. Four months later, he was gone.



Gregory Lang Construction, 30


Mr. Fix-it with machines, helpless against his own addiction

Gregory Lang, 30

Greg Lang seemed to have a natural ability when it came to fixing cars – though he didn’t like Fords, his mother, Rita Lang, said with a laugh.

He was the guy that friends would call to fix their cars. He worked on his mother’s cars. He also drove to Massachusetts to fix his father’s car. After all, it was his father who taught him about mechanics.

Greg’s interest in machines and technology began as a young boy. He would go to his mother’s work and sit cross-legged in back of a broken clock, which he called a “time machine,” and study how its gears moved.

“He was a good boy,” Rita Lang said. “He liked to work. He was a perfectionist. Anything he did had to be perfect. ‘Cause if it wasn’t, he was not happy with himself.”

He dabbled in construction and worked briefly for a Biddeford contractor. Rita Lang gazed toward the kitchen and mentioned a shelf that still needed to be hung. If Greg were alive, the shelf would have been up a long time ago, she said. He would have also hooked up her stereo’s surround sound speakers.

“He wanted everything just right for Mom,” she said.

Greg lived with his mother briefly before he died of an overdose of fentanyl in April 2016. He was 30, and his death came after a long struggle with drug use. His mother says that struggle began in 2011, when he suffered a broken collarbone and came home from treatment with a prescription for oxycodone.

He switched to heroin when he could no longer get painkillers, and his efforts to stop using drugs included several stays in detoxification centers as well as enrollment in treatment programs. But he couldn’t stop using.

Greg was close to his brother, “EJ,” who could easily pass as his twin.

He was artsy, fun and free-spirited. His mother remembers the day she and Greg’s girlfriend put tiny Bantu knots in his hair and then went shopping at Wal-Mart.

“So off we go – the three of us – with his hair all goofed-up,” she said, tears streaming down her cheeks. “We did lots of things. He’s my baby. Everyday... I just miss him. I’m still waiting for him to come home.”



Andrew Gibson Cook, 21


An all-too-brief life, lived at full speed and along a cliff’s edge

Andrew Gibson, 21

Andrew Gibson loved to look fresh.

When the Massachusetts native looked good, his mother, Mary, knew he was feeling good. His brown hair would be cut short, the color of his trademark Nikes and his hat would match and his mirrored sunglasses and T-shirt would be free of smudges or stains.

She would know Andrew had started using heroin again when he stopped washing his clothes, then himself. Scuff marks would appear on his shoes. Trash would pile up in his car. His muscular body, built strong from protein burritos and gym visits, would begin to waste away.

“He was very meticulous,” she said. “He knew what he wanted in a lot of things. Girls, cars, everything.”

His learning disabilities made it hard for him to like school, but he found a measure of success, and of self-worth, at a charter high school outside his hometown of Billerica. There, he turned a lifelong love of dirt bikes into a project about engine dynamics that helped him graduate on time.

He was also a daredevil. From dirt bikes and souped-up cars to skiing down a mountain without poles and across the water at Lake Winnipesaukee, Andrew was happiest when life was going full speed, with the motor revving and tunes blasting.

He had a taste for good things, expensive things, but he was patient, and would save up the money he earned as a cook at Portland House of Pizza to get them, passing over easier, less desirable options until he could attain just what, or who, he wanted.

If only he had been so disciplined about drugs, she says. Andrew was 21 when he died of an overdose in April 2015.

It was the end of a history with drugs that began with marijuana in his early teens and evolved into an addiction to Percocet, an opioid painkiller, and eventually heroin. Andrew went to seven different detox and treatment programs but repeatedly relapsed.

He moved to Maine to live in a sober house in one of his efforts at recovery. At that point, he was facing a threat from a judge that he would get jail time if he didn’t get treatment.

Andrew wasn’t good at being a friend to himself, but he was to others, his mother said. He didn’t talk a lot, sometimes going for hours in your company without saying a word, but then when he did speak, his carefully chosen words proved he had been listening all along.



Jesse Erskine Construction, 31


Laid-back athlete and animal lover was hit by health hardships

Jesse Erskine, 31

As the only person in the house who liked tuna, Bonnie Erskine grew suspicious when her cans went missing. Late one night she heard talk coming from her yard and discovered her son, Jesse, feeding a scrawny but expectant stray cat.

“And,” his mother said, “he’d been doing it for a while.”

Jesse Erskine had a soft spot for animals. He befriended rescue dogs. He once hopped out of a taxi to usher a baby skunk off the road to join its mother.

He was a hard worker – construction, carpentry, landscaping – who held off felling a dead tree until a nest of woodpeckers had departed. He fashioned small boulders into two circular flowerbeds outside his parents’ house in Boothbay.

Jesse also loved sports. He played free safety on the Boothbay Region teams that won consecutive Class C football state championships in 2001 and 2002, wearing a trademark green bandanna beneath his helmet. As a sophomore forward, he played on the Seahawks basketball team that won the 2001 state title.

Surprisingly, Jesse grew 10 inches taller than his older brother, reaching 6 feet 6 inches and wearing size 15 sneakers. He played one season of basketball at Mount Ida College, a Division III school outside of Boston.

“He was not an exuberant guy,” said I.J. Pinkham, the longtime Boothbay basketball coach. “He did his job, went about his business.”

Tom Erskine, Jesse’s father, played for Pinkham’s first team at Boothbay back in 1977. Both father and son wore No. 12. His friends called him “Cazdog,” his father said, “because he was so laid-back about everything, so casual. If the house was on fire, he’d be the last one out.”

Jesse’s growth spurt came with a price for his knees and shins. He wore a compression strap to manage inflammation in high school and began taking painkillers in college. His parents figure that’s where his addiction started. It continued through his adult years, which included three car accidents, a broken pelvis, a bout with lung cancer and – just a few months before he died on June 16, 2016, at age 31 – a heart attack.

“There was opioids in all of those, I’m sure,” Tom Erskine said of his son’s medications.

Winter Page began dating Jesse in January 2016. Her previous boyfriend had been a heroin addict, so she was attuned to the signs. With Jesse, she said she found no needles or puncture marks.

“When you think of an addict, you think of an introverted, sketchy (character),” she said. “Jesse was full of life. He was very open and bright.”



Joshua Fournier House painter, 26


Lesson from young man’s turmoil: As an addict, ‘you’re never fine’

Joshua Fournier, 26

When Joshua Fournier was in prison on a drug offense, he made origami flowers for his mother. He told her how the Japanese art kept him busy, and that was key to his staying off heroin.

Heather Nason said her oldest child embraced being drug-free in the six months he spent in prison. He enjoyed lifting the weights he fashioned from water bags. And he enjoyed creating the pink and blue flowers he mailed her. He said he wanted to stay sober and he asked for help.

“I know you’re busy with work and the kids. But thank you for everything you’ve been doing for me and the food every week,” Joshua wrote her. “I appreciate it so much. I definitely want to do some sort of program and not just get out and go right back into (Sanford). They’re starting a new drug program here, so I’m starting that.”

Joshua had struggled with his teachers and classes at Sanford High School, but he thrived in welding class at vocational school. He played basketball in a recreational league, having no interest in varsity sports. He loved to fish.

He had been diagnosed with attention-deficit disorder, but he didn’t want to take the medication that was prescribed.

Joshua was sent to Long Creek Youth Development Center for theft when he was 17. Pat Bussell, Joshua’s grandmother, said sometimes he got in trouble because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time or simply with the wrong people.

After Joshua was released from prison on a drug conviction in September 2015, he plunged into his job as a painter. He moved to a Portland group home for recovering addicts. His mother said he was happy.

But when Joshua visited his grandmother in Sanford that Thanksgiving, he was too close to the people and the neighborhood where he used drugs, and he relapsed. The following summer, on July 27, 2016, he died of an overdose at age 26.

“He went to a counselor when he got out (of prison), but they released him and never followed up,” Bussell said.

“They said, ‘You’re fine.’ But when you’re an addict, you’re never fine. You’re only fine at that moment. They just fall back into the same pattern. They’re not getting help.”



Timothy Costa Disabled, 37


Against substance abuse, man who could beat anything met his match

Timothy Costa, 37

Timothy Costa spent a lifetime getting knocked down – but he always got back up.

Blinded by a shotgun blast in a failed suicide attempt at 15, Tim showed remarkable resilience when his recovery included learning how to ski.

“He couldn’t get enough of it,” said his father, Jim Costa. “I think that changed his life a lot. He saw that even though he was blind he could do anything.”

Costa recalls secretly trailing Tim as he started walking with a white cane, marveling at how fast his son moved, weaving comfortably around cars and obstacles.

“He had no fear. None.”

But Tim, who started acting out as early as the third grade and was abusing alcohol and pot as a teenager, spent the rest of his life in a constant battle with addiction. In October 2015, at age 37, he died of a fentanyl overdose in the backyard of his sober house. It was the latest of a half-dozen sober homes for Tim, who also went through detox four or five times. Throughout the constant upheaval, he and his father spoke almost every day.

“He was very comical, very intelligent. He had a beautiful sense of humor,” his father said. It made the dark times that much harder, he said.

“I was hard on him,” Costa admits. “He had done so well.”

In the hours and days leading up to his death, Tim lost his girlfriend, his housing and the promise of a job. He responded by calling a dealer and showing up at his sober house high. In the following hours, he was arrested by Portland police, bailed out by his aunt and dropped off at the sober house around midnight.

Sometime before his body was discovered at 6 a.m., Tim made one last call, his father said.

“He called my younger son, who didn’t wake up,” Jim Costa said. “He left a message saying: ‘Ted, I’m in trouble. I need help.’”

It was a message that came too late. Looking back, Tim’s father said drugs were the only thing Tim couldn’t conquer through sheer determination.

“He couldn’t overcome it. Not with counseling. Not with medications,” Costa said. “He could overcome everything but drugs and alcohol.”



Chelsey Gerlat Restaurant worker, 24


Her relentless optimism ultimately wasn’t enough to dispel darkness

Chelsey Gerlat, 24

Chelsey Gerlat always said she was broken, but those who knew her loved her fiercely. It was the way she joked and her oversized laugh, her monkey faces and imagination. She was affectionate, with a big personality and an easy way about her.

“She was awesome,” her mother, Michelle Lucia, said. “She did not give a rat’s you-know-what about what anybody thought about her.”

She knew from an early age that she could charm her way out of anything but even then, beneath her swagger, lurked a dark, roiling anguish.

“She couldn’t find quiet,” Michelle said. “Her mind was never turned off.”

She would soar, the relentless optimist, convinced the next thing might really make her happy. Then crash when the new hair color, car, guy, failed to keep darker voices at bay.

She started drinking by age 12 and smoking pot, though her mother wouldn’t know for years. As she got older, and the urge to use overcame her, she’d start fights and run away for days. Then that same girl would creep home and into her mother’s bed and nestle onto her mother’s shoulder. It was the only place she’d ever been able to fall asleep without effort.

At 21, Chelsey overdosed, though maybe not for the first time, and that began a blur of rehabs and detox programs and hospital visits. Then she found a program in downtown Portland and with it sobriety, gratitude and refuge.

In 2015, Chelsey learned she was pregnant and was ecstatic at the prospect. The day she gave birth to the little girl she named Adrianna Michelle, she whispered she’d always love her.

But even that love could not save Chelsey from drugs, and that truth drove her into deeper darkness. When she overdosed again, Lucia took the baby and found another program. A month later, at 24, the girl who wandered the house in a leopard-print onesie, the one who loved bingo and dancing and the New York Yankees, died in a New Hampshire hotel room.

These days Michelle is raising Adrianna while balancing a full-time job. Whenever the little one gets restless, Michelle hoists her onto her shoulder and waits for the soft sounds of slumber.



Jamie Cantwell Marketing, 24


Fast and fearless, a daredevil embraced adventure – and risks

Jamie Cantwell, 24

Most kids carry blankies. Jamie Cantwell had a cape.

He was always dressing up like Batman or Superman, characters he had some things in common with.

Jamie was fast, and he was fearless. No adventure posed a problem for him, but later in his life, alcohol did. And when he was drinking, if there were other drugs around, that was a problem, too.

Though a decade younger than his brother and stepsisters, Jamie had no problem keeping up with them when he was a boy. He’d run into the water without hesitation – or jump, if there was a bridge nearby.

He started skiing when he was 4 years old. Whether at Sunday River or in Switzerland, he’d always head right for the hardest trails, then straight down them.

On one trip, his brother remembers watching Jamie in his signature bright orange ski pants roll down the slope. When they got to the bottom, he asked about the fall.

It was just a tumble, Jamie insisted. He’d gotten back up on his skis without stopping, so it didn’t count.

Jamie’s mother remembers the first time she thought she’d lost him, when he was a kid. They’d gone snorkeling in the Cayman Islands and he was nowhere to be found. It turned out he’d just taken off after something he saw in the water.

In a picture of them parasailing when he was a preteen, her mouth is stuck wide open, while he’s just smiling calmly.

When Jamie was at a sober house on Cape Cod, his mother asked what he wanted do when she came to visit. He wanted to go skydiving, so they did.

It was another sober house that brought him from Massachusetts, where he’d spent almost all of his 24 years, to Portland, where he died of an overdose on July 31, 2015.

A few months earlier, he had been in Jamaica for his brother’s wedding. He got his mother to take an ATV with him out to a trail to go cliff-diving, but when they got to the spot, he was unimpressed.

“You call this a cliff?” he said.



Samuel Stevens Lobsterman, 23


Described as ‘a good kind of crazy,’ sternman’s happy but haunted

Samuel Stevens, 23

Sam Stevens did dead-on imitations of Borat and Austin Powers that left his friends and family rolling on the floor. He had a quick wit, making him a master at the snappy comeback. A popular and handsome athlete, Sam was the kind of guy that other guys liked and the girls simply loved.

He helped his high school, Washington Academy in East Machias, win two state championships, the first for its boys’ soccer and basketball teams. He always seemed happy, quick to laugh and take pleasure in his life’s activities, from climbing Katahdin to playing with his dog to fishing on the lake.

“He was always happy,” said his stepmother, Wanda Stevens. “He was an addict, but he wasn’t, too, not the way you think of an addict. He was good inside. He was crazy good, and a good kind of crazy.”

But he was honest, too, and that honesty would sometimes prompt him to say the most haunting things, things that made his family realize that underneath all of that happiness was a boy who seemed to know he wasn’t going to make it.

He started calling himself a junkie. After he got kicked out of school, he talked bleakly about his future.

His father, Jeff Stevens, recalls Sam saying: “‘It finally hit me. The very best I can ever hope for in life is to be average.’”

But Sam buckled down when he learned he was going to be a father. He signed up for an out-of-state rehabilitation program over the winter, when the lobster boat he worked on as sternman had pulled up its traps for the season, to get clean before the baby was born in April.

“He always talked about him,” said Kristin Seeley, the mother of his child. “Every little thing. If I said something hurt, he said, ‘Oh my gosh, we have to go to the hospital.’ One day we were laying there watching TV. He said, ‘You really need to lay on your side,’ and I said, ‘Why?’ and he said, ‘Because it’s better blood flow for the baby.’”

Sam came home in late March for the birth of his son, Lucca, but he didn’t live to see it. Just days after his return, on March 26, 2016, Sam, 23, overdosed on a mixture of fentanyl, heroin and Valium. Lucca was born 12 days later.



Dennis Tardie Millworker, 26


Young fan of NASCAR, chased by demons he couldn’t outrace

Dennis Tardie, 26

Growing up in the stillness of rural northern Maine, Dennis Tardie loved big, loud engines.

He spent his first paycheck on a snowmobile and devoted hours to tinkering in the garage or riding four-wheelers with his brother, Matt.

He squealed the tires of his Chevy truck in the driveway of their Nashville Plantation home, and spent weekends cheering on NASCAR driver No.14, Tony Stewart, and hollering about how that damn Jeff Gordon was a cheater. He also loved to drink and, later, to crush hydrocodone pills and snort them.

Left jobless by seasonal slowdowns at the lumber mill in Ashland, he had money trouble. He served time after being busted as the driver in a robbery, and would bum money off his grandmother or sell off his beloved tools.

His parents, Terri Sturgeon and Gerald Tardie, who had their own problems with alcohol, didn’t know what to do. After partying in front of, and with, their sons, divorce followed. The boys started staying wherever they could get away with bad behavior.

Seeing Dennis’ descent “changed me,” Terri said. “I haven’t had a drink in four and a half years.”

Gerald goes to counseling and blames himself for setting a bad example.

On March 15, 2014, Dennis died of an overdose. The coroner’s report said the 26-year-old had a .33 blood alcohol level – four times the amount that triggers an OUI charge – and hydrocodone in his system.

Gerald knew Dennis was dead the moment he saw him stretched out on a bed while a roommate performed CPR.

“I knew,” Gerald said. “You could see the blueness in the back of his ears.”

That was more than three years ago, and his mother still hasn’t touched his room in her tidy house. Gerald keeps pictures of Dennis and a No. 14 NASCAR cap on top of Dennis’ tool cabinet in his workshop. He still has the last text message Dennis sent him.

Terri takes comfort in the little things that keep her son close. Pictures of Dennis hang in the living room, and she fixed up his Chevy and drives it as her own pickup now.

“Every time I come off the road, I squeal the tires,” she said. “Because Dennis would like that.”



Justin Vadas Construction, 37


Generous workingman, a welcome figure in young people’s lives

Justin Vadas, 37

Justin Vadas was a tall, burly construction worker with a remarkably strong work ethic. Under his macho veneer, the Portland man had a soft spot in his heart for children.

“He was always buying gifts for his friends’ kids, even though he didn’t have the money to spare,” said his mother, Charlotte Vadas of Yarmouth.

When Justin married his wife, Erica, in 2014, he also became a father to her son.

He embraced his new role, giving his mother hope that her son might one day recover from a drug addiction that began some 20 years before, when he was a student at Gray-New Gloucester High School.

She still remembers a Thanksgiving dinner where everyone was asked to state what they were thankful for. Vadas’ 9-year-old stepson, Robert, whose father had died when he was an infant, replied, “I’m thankful that Justin came into my life.”

Justin didn’t react, “but I could tell how touched he was,” Charlotte said.

“Robert helped Justin stay sober. It gave Justin a period of time where he was happy, but... it didn’t last,” Charlotte said.

When Justin did not call his mother last Mother’s Day, she knew something was wrong.

“That was a hint that something was up,” she said. “He always called me on Mother’s Day.”

Justin overdosed that day, May 9, 2016, at his apartment in Portland, ending a life that saw him pass in and out of detoxification and treatment programs, seeking a way out of drug use. He also ran afoul of the law and spent time in jail, committing a variety of crimes related to his drug use, including theft, assault and drug possession.

Heroin was what killed Justin at age 37, but Charlotte said he had also been taking a number of prescription medications for anxiety and depression for more than a decade. While others may have given up on him, she said she always felt a strong connection to her son regardless of the crimes he had committed or the mistakes he had made in his life. “I was his mother. I just felt strongly about this. It would not have mattered. Whether he was diabetic or suffering from some other disease. I would have stood by him,” she said. “People need to understand that this is a disease and these people need our help.”



Jocelyn Houston Nurse, 35


Becoming a mom defied the odds; becoming an addict went too far

Jocelyn Houston, 35

At the nursing homes where she worked sporadically throughout her short life, Jocelyn Houston knew how to joke through the potentially embarrassing moments.

“What, are we having a pee party here?” she might say after a patient had a toileting accident. She was slim and striking, green-eyed and blonde. “They all called her ‘Sunshine,’” her mother, Laurie McGuire, recalled. They wanted to know when Sunshine’s shift started.

Maybe Jocelyn was at ease in health care because she’d spent so much time in medical settings as a child; she’d been born with a rare disorder, adrenal hyperplasia, which meant her body was not producing adequate female hormones. She had a womb, but no vaginal opening or labia, and was given steroids starting at three months. At 18 months, after corrective surgery, doctors told her parents she’d likely grow to have masculine characteristics and be unable to bear children.

Jocelyn defied this prognosis by being a true “girlie girl,” McGuire said, laying claim to her mother’s makeup by the time she was 2. Then she went on to have two children, a daughter who was 7 and a son who was 3 when their mother died.

Jocelyn swung between extremes, to the point that her family wondered if she was bipolar. She began drinking at 14 and struggled with alcohol her whole life. Yet she earned a nursing degree and was able to find work at health care facilities in both Maine and Massachusetts.

She longed for city life and after an early marriage moved to Italy for several years as the wife of an Army sergeant stationed in Vicenza. She’d send letters from France, Hungary and Germany to a mother who opened them in Maine, fearing this was all just an attempt at a geographical cure. The marriage ended in divorce and, not long after, the suicide of her husband.

Jocelyn veered between berating or adoring her mother, and told her everything, even calling her to gush about the first time she tried heroin, on New Year’s Eve 2015, and how much she loved it. She was mercurial and manipulative – an opportunist who always knew how to find a bed in a drug program before a court appearance so she’d appear contrite. But she was also the mother who took her children to every parade, art class and “always to the park,” McGuire said.

She overdosed at age 35 in Quincy, Massachusetts, in March 2016 with an unfulfilled wish, to have surgery to construct the labia she’d been born without. Her possessions at that point were her dog, Gertrude, and three plastic bags filled with clothing, makeup and one of her son Aiden’s baby blankets. She’d been kicked out of a residential facility, but a bed was waiting for her at yet another rehab site. This time, she didn’t make it.



Steven Waycott Veteran, carpenter, 50


Unbearable losses, pain pushed a father and former Marine to the edge

Steven Waycott, 50

Eric Waycott remembers the look on his father’s face – a blend of frustration and flattery – when he unveiled the “DAD” tattoo etched into his right bicep.

The anchor glistened just below older ink dedicated to Eric’s mother, whose death just four years earlier had left his father, Steven, hopelessly adrift. Although apocryphal now, the accompanying “You were my anchor” inscription was aimed at honoring a man who inspired Eric even as he watched his father fail to manage his own addiction.

“My dad was my best friend,” said Eric, 22, still wearing his sleeve higher on his right arm six months after his father’s death. “I guess I didn’t really realize it until he was gone.”

A graduate of Thornton Academy in Saco, Steven served in the Marine Corps in capacities that he rarely discussed with his family. After returning to Maine, he worked as a fisherman, a sea urchin harvester and in other jobs before turning to carpentry.

Steven made good money working nonstop and built a house for his family behind his father’s in Saco. But the back-bending work took a toll, resulting in severe arthritis in his back, carpal tunnel in both hands – and debilitating pain.

Eric is upfront about his dad’s drug history. He started young with marijuana and abused other drugs or alcohol at times during his life. Yet he knew enough about his own “addictive personality,” Eric said, to resist taking prescription opioids until it got to a point where the pain was simply too much. The loss of his ability to work was the first of two events that seemed to push Steven over the addiction ledge. The second was the loss of his wife, Kathleen, to cancer. She was 44.

“It ruined my father,” Eric said. “That took him from being a relatively functional addict to, for at least the next two or three years after she had passed, just a shell of himself.”

Steven died in April 2016 after taking a batch of street drugs that turned out to be pure fentanyl. He was 50.

Eric said he lost not only his father but the person he came to see as his friend despite the years of struggle.

“He was my anchor,” he said again. “He kept me grounded.”



Kenny Fergerson Assisted-living caregiver, 36


Caregiver who survived twin’s death struggled to look after himself

Kenny Fergerson, 36

Kenneth Fergerson drove 25 miles from East Machias to Lubec every day just to change his mother’s bandage after she developed a sore from diabetes. When a neighbor was discharged early from the hospital and needed care, he rushed over.

“The first thing Kenny does is clean her up,” said his mother, Donna Fergerson. “He was right on it. He said, ‘Don’t worry, honey, I’ll take care of you.'”

Kenneth was a caregiver who worked as a personal assistant. In the months before he died, he was a Certified Residential Medical Aide at Davis Estates, an assisted-living center in Machias. He loved the work, and the patients loved him.

“He had two girlfriends over there. They were older, but they really loved him,” his mother said. “He loved to help people. It didn’t matter who you were. If you needed help, Kenny was there.”

But while Kenneth often reached out to help others, he struggled to take care of himself and his son, Anthony.

Kenneth had a twin brother, Kristopher, who died of an accidental drowning in 2008 at the age of 28. An autopsy report said that morphine, hydrocodone and Percocet were in his system. Kenneth was devastated by the death of his brother, to whom he was very close, and turned to drugs. He died at 35 in February 2016, from an overdose of heroin cut with fentanyl.

The twins attended Lubec High School, where Kenneth played basketball. He also played bass in a band. They practiced on a small stage in the cafeteria.

“He couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket,” said his mother, laughing. “But he was a good guitarist.”

Kenneth had an artistic side and liked to draw, paint and write as well as play the guitar.

Anthony, his 17-year old son, keeps a folder containing artwork and writings by his father and his uncle.

“It’s pretty amazing,” he said, with a glimmer of pride in his eyes.

The folder is one of the few things he has left to remember his father and uncle by.

“When he was clean he was the nicest guy,” Anthony said. “Some of my best memories are talking to him. He was just like me.”



David Zysk Social service caseworker, 33


Instrumental in saving lives, a tireless advocate finally lost his own

David Zysk, 33

As a second-grader, David Zysk learned about global warming in school and lay awake trying to figure out how to take care of the problem. Six years later, when he was supposed to be at a friend’s house in Wells, he ended up at Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, protesting Columbus Day.

“He always had a cause,” said his mother, Mary Jeralds.

But combined with depression, his deep empathy sometimes made life difficult for the sensitive, intelligent young man.

“As he was able to describe to me later in life, he felt pain all the time,” Jeralds said. “He just felt like he was in pain, and the drugs helped to relieve the pain that he felt.”

Muting the pain led to harsh consequences: a heroin addiction, multiple detox attempts at Mercy Hospital, the better part of six years in various jails. While locked up he found a new cause: advocating for the reduction of solitary confinement of Maine prisoners. That’s when David first realized his voice could make an impact. When he was released from prison in November 2011, he decided to get clean and help others.

“David shared his truths when he spoke,” Jeralds said. “He was articulate. He was engaging. He was an eloquent speaker, and people listened when he spoke.”

While pursuing a degree in social work at the University of Southern Maine, David began working at Preble Street Clinical Intervention Program. As a peer “navigator,” and later as a caseworker, he became a go-to source of information and inspiration to clients and co-workers.

“From the homeless person on the street to the president of the United States, he could carry a conversation,” said his sister, Carly Zysk, who is in recovery from addiction.

His family says David’s daily efforts and tireless advocacy saved the lives of many other people. But he was unable to save himself.

After nearly four years of productive, drug-free living, David, 33, was found dead in a Portland hotel room on Nov. 8, 2015. The toxicology report showed he had overdosed on fentanyl.

“And that’s the moral of the story,” Jeralds said. “It’s an ongoing disease.”



Erica Marie Foster Homemaker, 34


A mom who yearned ‘to be on the cutting edge of everything’

Erica Marie Foster, 34

Erica Marie Foster wanted the best in life. She loved to shop, follow every new trend, go on vacation and buy her three children anything they wanted.

She grew up in a rough Portland neighborhood but managed to get out and make a good life for her children and her childhood sweetheart, whom she dated for 20 years.

But Erica battled a lifelong addiction, and it ultimately cost her everything. She died at age 34 in April 2016, after overdosing in the bathroom of a Dunkin’ Donuts on a mixture of cocaine, heroin and fentanyl.

Erica grew up on Munjoy Hill, from a broken home and surrounded by substance abuse. She started using drugs early, moving from prescription pills to heroin. It wasn’t until she had her second child that she decided to stop using drugs. She got onto a methadone treatment and used it for more than a decade.

Erica’s life revolved around her boyfriend, Mike, and her three children. She and Mike met when she was 15, and two years later she had a daughter. Mike had a good job, and the couple was able to afford the life they wanted. They eventually bought a house in Windham, got cars and ATVs. Erica indulged her love of shopping, manicures, hairstyling and tattoos. Her children got the newest toys and clothes. They traveled to Mexico, Costa Rica and Florida.

“You never knew what she was going to do next,” said Barbara Huntington, her sister. “She wanted to be on the cutting edge of everything.”

But on one trip south of the border, Erica and Mike started using again, and when they got home, they fell back into addiction.

Within a few years, they lost everything and wound up living in a hotel room.

Erica and Mike talked about moving to Florida to escape and start a new life. He managed to get into residential treatment, but Erica didn’t have insurance to cover it, even though all she wanted to do was get better.

Erica worked hard to hide her addiction and tried to be cheerful in public.

“But sometimes she would call, crying, saying she couldn’t stop,” her sister said. “She would try and try and try.”



Tim Toman Flooring, 32


Worst-case scenario for perfectionist: A losing battle with addiction

Tim Toman, 32

Tim Toman could build and fix almost anything. Plumbing, flooring, wiring or busted cars – show him once how to install it, lay it down or get it running, and he’d pretty much have it mastered.

He was handy in the kitchen, too, a whiz with lasagna, steak and bacon-wrapped scallops. When his dear friend (and on-again, off-again romance) Beth Cella turned 50, he baked her a five-layer frosted cake.

Tim was a perfectionist, which was a mixed blessing. Whatever he did, he did well. But whatever he did, he did slowly, and if the work didn’t meet his exacting standards, he’d undo it and start over. That drove his father, Ronald Toman, crazy.

The two worked together for more than a decade in the elder Toman’s flooring business. But if they bickered, they were also very much alike, his sister, Joanie Toman Binette, says.

Last June, he took his father out for Father’s Day. Two days later he was dead.

Tim had more than his share of accidents. At 11, he was hit by a car while riding his dirt bike and was taken to the hospital in critical condition. At 18, he broke his neck in a car accident. He survived. The driver, his best friend, did not.

While recovering, Tim got hooked on oxycodone. When his doctors realized, they shut off his prescriptions, Beth says. From then on he suffered from addiction. He used anything he could get – oxycodone, Suboxone, booze, crack, heroin.

Loving, capable Tim alternated with paranoid, mean, crazy Tim. He blew through the $300,000 settlement from the car accident, spending some of it on drugs. He lost his driver’s license, his friends and his girlfriends.

His older sister kept her distance. He spent time in jail. One frigid February day, he nearly lost his feet to frostbite, when he ran around outside barefoot, crazed on cocaine.

At least once and probably twice, Tim overdosed and was revived. Just four days before his 33rd birthday, he overdosed again. This time, his heart stopped for good.



Kristina Emard Veteran, 28


A U.S. soldier’s life spiraled downward after an alleged rape overseas

Kristina Emard, 28

Kristina Emard dreamed of being a nurse. In her junior year at Noble High School, she became a certified nursing assistant and worked as a home health aide. She had her heart set on nursing school, but her family couldn’t afford it. So she joined the Army.

That’s where her life came undone.

Kristina was raped by another soldier during her tour in South Korea in 2008. He was acquitted of the charges. After that her life began to unravel, said her mother, Ann Howgate of Lebanon. She went AWOL, twice. She was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, severe depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder. She turned to drugs to cope. First it was marijuana, then it was opioids.

Kristina died in September 2016 of an overdose of fentanyl and cocaine. She was 28.

“There’s a hole in my heart,” said Howgate. “There’s an emptiness that I can’t even explain.”

Kristina tried to beat her addiction, attending various treatment programs for substance use, including one with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Brockton, Massachusetts. She had several stints of being clean and sober, the longest lasting about a year. It was one of the happier times in her life.

She had big brown eyes that sparkled when she smiled. She had an infectious laugh. She often threw her head back when she laughed – especially when laughing at herself.

Kristina was not a morning person, yet she would wake up at 5 a.m. to join her boyfriend, Deven Reardon, at yoga. She would sit there like a zombie while he held poses. Kristina loved to cook and dance around the kitchen, holding a wooden spoon to her mouth like a microphone and poking Reardon when he tried to eat from the bowl before supper.

“I would walk by and she would grab me up and we would dance around. She loved to be twirled,” he said.

Kristina was an avid runner. She finished the Vermont City Marathon – a 26.2-mile race – in May 2016. A half-dozen race shirts and medals hang from the curtain rods in her mother’s kitchen.

At the VA recovery program in Brockton, Kristina got a job working in the greenhouse. She and Reardon would sit in the lobby and sell produce and flowers. She had a stargazer lily – her favorite flower – tattooed on her back.



Brian Hodge Concrete pourer, 37


Hard-working and mischievous, even as drug use eroded his life

Brian Hodge, 37

Brian Hodge was a mischief-maker with an appetite for hard work and a good heart.

He liked to play practical jokes and make people laugh. One time in high school, he used an air hose to blow off his shop teacher’s toupee, to the delight of his fellow classmates.

“He was a very happy boy, but he was a hellion in school,” said Brian’s mother, Carmen Hodge. “He was always the class clown.”

At the same time Brian, who lived in Winthrop, was always the first person to come to the aid of a friend, Carmen said. She could recall at least two times when Brian had saved someone in a crisis, including a friend who had fallen through thin ice while snowmobiling.

Brian was a jovial person who never took life’s problems too seriously, she said. He could be reckless at times, joyriding in Carmen’s car or shooting arrows at a mural inside their house, but he never meant to hurt anyone. Brian liked everything about the outdoors – camping, gardening, hiking, swimming and boating were among his many interests. But above all, he loved working and being with his family.

Drug addiction slowly changed him, Carmen said. It started in his late teens with drinking, then pot, then pills. Eventually, Brian was shooting heroin. His behavior caused much grief for his family and friends, landed him in trouble with the law on several occasions, and ultimately killed him at age 37, when he overdosed on May 18, 2015.

Despite his addiction, Brian would put in 14-hour days pouring concrete, often with little sleep because of his alcohol and drug abuse. He was fired and rehired numerous times because, despite his drug-related infractions, he was a valued employee.

In the days leading up to his overdose, Brian had stopped using drugs and was acting like his old self again – relaxed, calm, smiling, cracking jokes. Carmen said she doesn't know what triggered the urge to use again, but Brian had tried and failed many times over the years to stay clean.

“Yes, he did some bad things,” Carmen said. “But when he was not on drugs, he was the most loving, caring person there ever was.”



Toby Zielinski Veteran, carpenter, 44


Skilled carpenter and Army vet, quick to come to the aid of others

Toby Zielinski, 44

Like lots of other little kids, Toby Zielinski – “a happy, active child” – loved watching “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

“It was the only thing that seemed to calm him down,” his mother, Marcia Zielinski, recalled.

When he got a little older, he became a fan of Evel Knievel, the motorcycle stunt rider, and wound up riding bikes himself. “He always had a motorcycle, until he became a father,” his mother said. Then he gave it up because he wanted to stay safe.

As an adult, he would pull over whenever he saw a car broken down by the side of the road.

“It didn’t matter if it was raining or whatever,” his mother said. “He would change a tire in the middle of a snowstorm if he thought someone needed help.”

Toby and his brother, David, had a construction company together, building houses from the foundation up. Proud of his accomplishments, he took his mother for a drive in Scarborough on Oct. 9, 2015, to show her some of the homes he had worked on.

A few hours later, the skilled carpenter and Army veteran was dead from a dose of fentanyl-laced heroin.

Marcia Zielinski found her 44-year-old son in the Portland apartment that she had rented for them. She had recently given up her home in Connecticut and moved to Maine, hoping to shepherd her son’s fragile recovery through treacherous territory mined with old friends and familiar hangouts.

Toby’s death ended a 27-year struggle with drug use and addiction that began at 17, when he was prescribed narcotics for pain associated with a lengthy respiratory illness, his mother says. After that, he turned from recreational marijuana use to cocaine and, eventually, heroin.

But he had been clean for the last year, while he was living with her in Connecticut. Before moving back to Maine, he told her he wanted to stop taking the methadone and psychiatric medication that had bolstered his recovery. He didn’t like the way they made him feel. He wanted to return to Maine so he could see his teenage daughter. He was feeling strong. He didn’t need any drugs.

“Toby,” she remembers pleading with him, “sweetheart, you can’t do that. It’s not that easy.”



Sarah Beth Berlin Pizza delivery driver, 25


Upbeat young woman was drawn to people, and they to her

Sarah Berlin, 25

Sarah Beth Berlin was always smarter than most people in the room, says her father, Steven Berlin. It was a blessing and a curse. She was bored by school and later, after getting hooked on heroin, she’d convince doctors and nurses at rehab programs that she was OK and ready to go home. Then she’d go right back to using.

But during the stretches when she was sober, the old upbeat Sarah would come back. She’d go to the beach with her godchildren, laugh with her friends, work with children with special challenges.

Sarah was drawn to people, and people were drawn to her.

From the time she was little, she was like a windup doll: Get her dressed in the morning and she was out the door, visiting all of her friends in her neighborhood by the beach. Her blonde Shirley Temple curls spilled over her shoulders.

On family trips, Sarah was the one chatting up strangers and making new friends.

“She was friends with everyone and could talk to anybody about anything,” her father says.

Sarah was his youngest daughter, the third of his four children, and his Johnny-on-the-spot, always ready to go sailing or on an impromptu road trip.

On those trips, she’d flip through CDs to find the music she preferred over the audiobooks her father listened to. They would sometimes sing together, but more often Sarah would sing for her father.

“She could do Etta James better than Etta James could do herself,” he says.

In the months before she overdosed, Sarah told her family she was sober, and they thought she was doing well. But she died alone at 25 in her apartment in Old Orchard Beach in March 2015. Her body was discovered by family members who went looking for her after she missed her brother’s birthday party.

Now it’s the happy memories – the ones of Sarah laughing, sailing and singing – that sustain her father.

“She was always fun to be with,” he says. “There is absolutely nothing anyone can do to fill the gap in my heart.”



Joseph Cahill House cleaning, 27


Haunted by hardships for all of his brief time on Earth

Joseph Cahill, 27

Joseph Cahill stuck close by his mother, Paula, when he was little. Watching Christmas movies on Lifetime with her, reading aloud to her. He was trying to make sure she paid him attention; he’d got it in his head that being the middle child of three boys he was somehow lesser. He was the introvert, outgoing only when he got drunk.

“His self-esteem was low,” says his mother. She never understood why. Her middle son was smart and handsome, and when he was little, “his eyelashes were bigger than his face almost.”

A lot of hard things happened to little Joe. Like sitting through Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with his father. Then the limp he developed at 5, the one his father thought he was faking, turned out to be a rare illness, Perthes disease, that required full casts on both legs for two years.

He excelled in elementary school, thanks perhaps to all the math problems he did on the beach while his brothers were swimming. As soon as that hip was healed, he dove into youth hockey. There were karate lessons, good friends, good schools.

“We had everything,” his brother, Jimmy, remembers.

Not everything. Joe was 12 when his father died of a cocaine and morphine overdose. Then Paula had a brain aneurysm. “They told us to go say goodbye to our mother,” Jimmy remembers. She went into a coma, the three boys went to their aunt and uncle’s. March, April, May and June went by. But then miraculously Paula came home. In family counseling, Joe resisted. But Paula didn’t worry. “He was so smart that I thought he could handle anything,” she says.

He had his own son when he was just 18 and loved him devotedly, but from a distance; the child’s mother lived in North Carolina and would not tolerate Joe’s insobriety. Joe would send Lego toys but when he moved south to be closer, things went wrong; like when the friend he was staying with died in an altercation with police.

Joe died of an overdose on June 15, 2015. He was 27.

His mid-20s involved several arrests, on charges of burglary, breaking and entering, all in the service of getting drugs. But sober? He ran a half-marathon in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. In the last months of his life, cleaning houses in York with his mother, he picked up a quirky habit, making her pull the car over every time they saw a discarded gas grill, which he’d fix and give to friends.

His family thinks he took solace from helping others when he could not help himself.



Dana Cote Veteran, musician, 32


Veteran helped fellow soldiers ‘get through (Iraq) war with his humor’

Dana Cote, 32

Dana Cote wanted to be like his father, only taller.

Ray Cote has a journal his son kept intermittently as an adult. In green ink, Dana had scrawled, “My relationship with my father was the kind that every son deserved with his dad. After dinners, he’d throw around a baseball or football or shoot hoops. We’d fish in the summer, and he was at all of my Little League games.”

By some miracle, Ray said, Dana did end up at 5-foot-7, surpassing his father’s height by a couple of inches. Dana had a penchant for irreverent humor and wanted to be a comedian like Louis C.K., and his father was his test audience.

Ray, a musician, taught his son how to play guitar, but Dana also had a talent for songwriting. When he enlisted in the Army after high school and deployed to the Middle East – Kuwait in 2002 and Iraq in 2003 ‐ he made his fellow soldiers laugh with a colorful ditty called “The Porta-Potty Blues.”

“A lot of people contacted me after, said how huge an influence Dana was on them, helping them get through that war with his humor,” Ray said.

Dana, however, struggled. Upon his return from Iraq, he sought treatment for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Dana eventually began to abuse his medication, his father said, along with alcohol and then illegal drugs. He was 32 when he died of an overdose in November 2015.

“I guess it was just bigger than him,” Ray said.

Dana’s 5-year-old daughter, Callia, now fishes with her grandfather – Pépère, as she calls him. She caught her first bass last summer. He bought her a small pink guitar, which is propped up against the wall for future lessons.

“Her hands are kind of small, but she wants to play guitar,” Ray said. “So I’m going to teach her, when she’s ready to be taught.”

Like her dad.



Mark Shackelford Moving company, 39


Girlfriend says: ‘You can only bring someone back ... so many times’

Mark Shackelford, 39

Alicia Morris knew about Mark Shackelford’s history of drug use. She knew he had been in and out of jail for much of his life. But she fell for him anyway.

Besides, she wasn’t perfect. She struggled with addiction, too. And for many years, they struggled together.

When they tried to get help, it was together. When they relapsed, that was together as well.

At the end, though, Mark was alone.

It was a typical day last November. He texted her while she was at work to tell her, “I got the good stuff baby.” When she saw the text and tried to call him, he didn’t answer. She knew something was wrong. She told her boss she had an emergency and raced home, but it was too late.

When she got to the apartment, Mark wasn’t breathing. He was blue. It was his sixth and final overdose. He was 39.

“You can only bring someone back from the dead so many times,” Morris said.

Mark had struggled his entire life. He was born in Virginia and grew up mostly in Connecticut. He found drugs early, even joined a gang in Hartford that Morris said became like a family. But he stayed close to his own family, especially his nieces and nephews. He was always willing to help a friend, even when he needed help himself, she said.

Not long before he died, he had gotten a job at a moving company and he and Morris had found an apartment together in Biddeford, where she grew up.

Morris, 35, hasn’t used since her longtime partner died but her life is far from settled. Her history of substance use goes back to 2009, when her two nephews were brutally murdered.

She wishes Mark had gotten help for his addiction – or that they could have battled it together – but in some ways she’s relieved for him.

“With all the demons he fought in his head on a daily basis, it’s a miracle he made it as long as he did,” she said. “I think for the first time in his life, he’s finally at peace.”



Matt Brooks Cook, 21


Haunted by older brother’s death, he secretly turned to drugs

Matt Brooks, 21

The year he graduated from high school, Matthew Brooks lost his older brother. Zachary had always been his best friend. When he died in a car crash at 21, Matthew was gutted.

He packed a car and drove with friends to Colorado to work, snowboard and escape into the mountains.

When he returned, it was clear he was still haunted by his brother’s death. But no one knew he had started using heroin. It was only after his second overdose that Matthew called his mother and told her he didn’t want to die. He entered one detox program, then another. The last time she talked to him, he was sounding optimistic.

“Things were going well up there, and he was meeting some new friends,” said his mother, Linda. “He was excited about being that 20 percent (who kick the addiction).”

Matthew had grown up full of energy, struggling to control attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. He played every sport and loved being a Boy Scout.

When he was 13, his mother taught him to use power tools so he could build a plaque for his badges. Then he built a bookshelf, then a massive skateboard ramp too big to move from the basement.

Linda didn’t mind. She wanted her boys to feel free to explore, “just as long as they kept all their fingers.”

Sometimes Matthew got in trouble. Linda remembers the day she got a call from school informing her that Matthew had mooned a math class from the hallway.

“He got in big trouble” she recalled. “School was never easy for him. It was frustrating.”

As a teen, when he chafed at Linda’s rules, Matthew would go live with his father. A week later he’d be back, missing her homemade chicken pot pie.

He died of an overdose two days after leaving the treatment program. He was 21 years old. Linda later learned that he’d told a counselor he, “would probably never be able to quit this stuff.”

These days when she feels down, Linda throws on one of Matthew’s sweatshirts. She looks at pictures of her sons. At night, she sleeps with Zachary’s childhood teddy bear.

“I just hold that every single night,” she said. “And hold my boys.”



Paul Miller Cook, 42


So-called ‘gangster redneck’ had a reputation for generosity

Paul Miller, 42

Paul Miller had a fierce temper. He held long grudges against people he thought had wronged him. He got in fights with police. He was in and out of jail so often he told people he was “serving a life sentence on the installment plan.”

But when Paul got the chance to meet and spend some time with his grandchildren, near the end of his life, he seemed like a different person.

“I saw such joy on his face when he met my kids, or when he introduced us to people,” said his daughter, Nicole Carroll, 23. “I was very in and out of his life, but in the last two years, I only saw his kindness. I think my dad really wanted to do well but he never got the chance.”

Growing up in Westbrook and several rural towns west of there, Paul hunted, fished, rode snowmobiles and drove four-wheelers. His wife, Jennifer Miller, describes his personality as “gangster redneck.”

A back injury in his mid-teens from “roughhousing or four-wheeling” led to his dependency on drugs to kill pain, his wife said. It was a dependency he lived with the rest of his life.

He worked a variety of jobs over the years, including as a cook. But cooking was also a passion, his wife said. He decided at an early age that if he wanted to eat well, he had to learn to cook well.

Paul was known to many of his friends, including other addicts, for his generosity. If someone was suffering from drug withdrawal, a feeling he knew well, he’d lend them money for a fix. He spent long stretches “couch-surfing” at other people’s homes. If he was staying with someone and they needed diapers for the baby or food for the dog, he’d buy it for them when his meager budget allowed.

He was staying on someone’s couch, in Windham, when he died at 44 on Aug. 2, 2015, from an overdose of heroin and other drugs.

“He was never in denial, he told me right away (about his drug use) and that even though he was sober at the time, chances were it would continue to be a problem for him,” said Jennifer, who married Paul in 2001. “He wanted to be honest with me.”



Death Toll
Drug overdose deaths are now averaging 1 per day. To put that into perspective, click the links below to see how Maine drug deaths compare to automobile deaths, homicides, death by fire and breast cancer during the same time span.
Holding On
A ragged teddy bear. A high school ring. A Red Sox cap. These are some of the things families cling to after heroin claims a loved one. Listen to their stories.
  • Fontaine 1Fontaine 2
    Joyce Fontaine, pictured with her husband, Gary, has worn her son Cory Boissonneault-Fontaine’s Biddeford High class ring every day since his death. Cory overdosed in November 2015 at age 29. Read more about Cory Boissonneault-Fontaine. Staff photos by Brianna Soukup

    "It’s special to me because I feel like he’s with me, he’s close to me."

  • Bossie 1Bossie 2
    One of the spoons his brother used to shoot up with is a reminder for Portland’s Andrew Bossie of the struggle to fight drug addiction. Ryan Bossie, 26, who wanted to be an underwater welder, died of an overdose in January 2015. Read more about Ryan Bossie. Staff photos by Brianna Soukup

    "He tried really hard and I tried really hard but there’s still a lot more work to do."

  • McCarthy 1McCarthy 2
    Gail McCarthy begins to cry as she sits on the bed where her daughter Ashley died of a methadone overdose in November 2013. Her son Matthew died of an overdose of heroin and fentanyl in April 2015. McCarthy keeps the clothes Matthew died in because they smell like him. Read more about Matthew McCarthy. Staff photos by Brianna Soukup

    “I’d give anything to be able to hear their voices again but at least with the clothes I have his smell.”

  • Jerald 1Jerald 2
    After her son gave her his one-year sober chip Lebanon’s Mary Jeralds said, "I thought I was done worrying about David." But on Nov. 8, 2015, 33-year-old David Zysk Jr., a staff member at Preble Street, died of a fentanyl overdose. Read more about David Zysk Jr. Staff photos by Brianna Soukup

    “This chip just is a symbol of how difficult it is for anyone in recovery, that at any moment they can have a slip. They have to work on themselves every day.”

  • Fecteau 1Fecteau 2
    Matthew Fecteau asked his mom to put suntan lotion on him on July 30, 2016. That was the day he died. Cathy Fecteau, photographed in her Biddeford home with her daughter Lizzy, can still smell that lotion on his shirt, which she keeps at her bedside. Read more about Matthew Fecteau. Staff photos by Brianna Soukup

    "When I hold that up and smell that at night I feel a little closer to him. It’s just something I can’t wash or put away."

  • McLeod 1McLeod 2
    Teresa McLoed’s son Billy Munroe Jr. was found dead behind a dumpster in a Portland parking garage in October 2015. A needle was still in his arm. After struggling with addiction for nearly 20 years he was homeless and owned nothing. His mother has only his ashes and family photos. Read more about Billy Munroe Jr. Staff photos by Brianna Soukup

    "He owned nothing. So I held onto my pictures, those are my memories."

  • Howgate 1Howgate 2
    Ann Howgate often sits in the car where her daughter Kristina Emard died Sept. 25, 2016 from an overdose of cocaine and fentanyl. Wearing Kristina’s beloved Red Sox hat makes Howgate feel close to her daughter. Read more about Kristina Emard. Staff photos by Brianna Soukup

    "It just makes me feel better to have it, I wear it all the time. I haven’t gotten rid of anything, yet."

  • Nason 1Nason 2
    Josh Fournier did origami to pass the time while in jail on a drug offense. The objects he created are now what’s left behind for his mother Heather Nason and his daughter Audriana. Josh died of an overdose on July 27, 2016. He was 26. Read more about Josh Fournier. Staff photos by Brianna Soukup

    "I would write him letters on colored paper so he’d have colored paper to make them with."

  • Parks 1Parks 2
    Mr. Bear was in Molly Parks crib when she was an infant. Though the stuffed animal has seen better days, Mr. Bear is now a way for Molly’s father Tom, sister Kasey and stepmother Pat Noble to remember Molly, who died of a heroin overdose April 16, 2015. Read more about Molly Parks. Staff photos by Brianna Soukup

    "She took it with her on sleepovers when she was 21 years old. She always had the bear with her, no matter what."

  • Ouellette 1Ouellette 2
    Lynn Ouellette wears some of her son Brendan Keating’s ashes in a heart-shaped locket. Brendan was just 22 years old when he died from an overdose on Dec. 16, 2013. Staff photos by Brianna Soukup

    "I wear it every day and it falls close to my heart, which is why I wear it ‘cause I want to feel like he’s close to my heart all the time."

From the Editor

As a devastating public health crisis tore through families and communities across the state, the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram set out to document the heroin epidemic’s impact.

A team of reporters sought to understand the causes and consequences of the rapidly rising death toll by listening to firsthand accounts of survivors – the loved ones left behind after an opioid-related death.

The newspaper met with Attorney General Janet Mills, whose office oversees the state medical examiner, and requested help in finding families who suffered losses and were willing to share their stories. Mills mailed a personal letter to family members of the hundreds of victims who have died recently and asked them to contact the newspaper if they agreed to be interviewed. In addition, reporters found families through obituaries, funeral home directors and drug counselors.

After interviewing more than 100 families who agreed to share their stories about their lost loved ones, reporters produced 60 individual portaits of overdose victims. In addition, these interviews and those of drug addiction experts and people in recovery revealed aspects of the crisis that were going unreported.

How women in particular are succumbing to the drug epidemic because of insufficient treatment facilities. How the state made treatment harder to get. How some families are devastated by multiple overdose deaths. How hundreds more children are being removed from drug-infested homes and stressing the child welfare system.

This 10-part series is the result of a yearlong project involving more than 50 reporters, editors and photographers.

Cliff Schechtman
Executive Editor