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Aug. 31 marks International Overdose Awareness Day, a global event held each year that aims to raise awareness of overdose and reduce the stigma of a drug-related death. It also acknowledges the grief felt by families and friends remembering those who have died.
Today, I am grieving the loss of my friend, Tim Bellavance, 53, of Augusta, who died on Aug. 8. His death was not unexpected, but it was preventable. He is just one of the 508 Maine people projected to be lost to accidental overdose this year, a 34 percent increase from last year. Just one.
He was born on May 19, 1968, the son of Raymond and Lorette Bellavance. Until the pandemic changed everything about the way we live, work and play, he was in long-term recovery and actively participating in treatment. He recently graduated from Co-Occurring Disorders Court in Kennebec County and was working digging bloodworms on the shores of our great state. He loved homemade chocolate pie, his “person in recovery” sweatshirt and his bulldog, Sam. He is survived by his brothers, Willy and Ray Bellavance, and his girlfriend, Sara Maschino. He leaves behind his extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins, many close friends and his recovery community.
He did not die because he did not want to live. He did everything in his power to do so.
He died because elected officials have not taken the overdose pandemic as seriously as they have the COVID-19 one. He died because social distancing requirements are limiting access to life-saving services and increasing the isolation of people in recovery. He died because he was kicked out of his treatment program for not knowing how to use the new video technology required to attend. He died because we can write laws like the “Good Samaritan Law,” but if actual people who actually use drugs in the actual places that they use them don’t know about the law or don’t understand it, then it does not matter.
But Tim did matter.
He was our friend, our family, and our community member. And our system failed him.
Gov. Janet Mills’ has successfully commanded the full force of government to flatten the curve of COVID-19 deaths. It is time that she does the same with overdoses. I ask you to join me in calling on her to direct Attorney General Aaron Frey to hold press conferences in collaboration with subject experts to release information about spikes in nonfatal and fatal overdoses on a weekly basis, in the same fashion that Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah informs the public of spikes in COVID-19 cases and deaths. Both pandemics deserve our immediate and sustained attention.
Courtney Allen is the lead field researcher at the Maine Drug Policy Lab of Colby College, a graduate student at Muskie School of Public Service and a candidate for the Augusta City Council. This column reflects her views and not those of her universities.