LINCOLN, Maine — Leslie Perry attended a candlelight vigil as part of International Overdose Awareness Day with the memory of her boyfriend, Michael Ranke, in mind.
Perry of Corinna was among about 25 people who attended the Wednesday vigil, co-hosted by the River Coalition and the Save a Life Task Force of Lincoln, at Prince Thomas Park on the shore of Mattanawcook Lake.
Ranke was tall, dark and handsome and had a great sense of humor, Perry said, but it was his cooking that really put him into her heart. A culinary school graduate, Ranke loved to take home lobsters from work — he was a lobsterman — and boil them for dinner. His lobster alfredo, crabmeat rolls, blueberry pancakes and especially his steak bombs were delicious, she said.
Perry said the 44-year-old Ranke died of an overdose of heroin cut with the painkiller fentanyl on Sept. 18, 2015.
People attended the vigil to honor the memory of departed loved ones, including Ranke, and those still in the fight against addiction.
Perry called life without Ranke “a living hell, plain and simple.”
“There’s a lot of whys and what ifs with it all,” Perry said.
Drug-related fatal overdoses hit a record high of 272 in 2015. In the first six months of 2016, 189 people in Maine died by drug overdose, which is up 50 percent over the same time last year, according to a preliminary analysis compiled by Dr. Marcella Sorg, a University of Maine medical and forensic anthropologist who analyzes overdose deaths for the state’s attorney general. The attorney general’s office released the data last week.
The local organizer of the vigil, Jessica Osnoe of Lincoln, said she hoped the vigil, and stories such as Ranke’s, would ease the stigma surrounding addiction.
“Until I got with him, I knew heroin as something that nasty people sitting under a bridge did,” Perry said. “It was something for people at the bottom of the barrel to do.”
Ranke was different, she said. He was a hardworking man who fell into drug addiction because of chronic back pain and the stress of a divorce, Perry said. He was described as a good son and a great parent.
Osnoe said she hoped that the vigil would inspire more addicts to get help. She encouraged people to join the Save a Life Task Force, which was established in April 2014 by a group of residents concerned with the substance use epidemic in the Lincoln area. It hosts monthly meetings in the Lincoln Lakes region. Information about the group is available at its LincolnSaveALife Facebook page.
“One of the greatest things about doing these events,” Osnoe said, “is that the whole world is doing something for Overdose Awareness Day. We are lighting up the world tonight.”
BDN writer Nok-Noi Ricker contributed to this report.