By Ramona du Houx
Maine Attorney General Janet T. Mills is sponsoring a Public Service Announcement (PSA) campaign aimed at Maine’s heroin epidemic. The one minute PSA features Henry ‘Skip’ Gates, a resident of Skowhegan. His son William Gates was an accomplished downhill ski-racer and a molecular genetics student at the University of Vermont at the time of his fatal heroin overdose in 2009.
“Skip Gates’ story is very painful and very compelling,” said Attorney General Mills. “When families see the ad it is my hope that it will spark a conversation about the risks posed by heroin and other opiates. These drugs are in all of our communities and Skip shows us that it is not just the ‘typical addict’ that is dabbling with and dying from this poison. Trying opiates just once can kill you or lead to a lifetime of miserable addiction. It is that simple.”
The State of Maine saw a sharp rise in drug overdoses that were largely attributable to pharmaceutical opiates beginning in 2002. In recent years as the availability of pharmaceutical opiates has decreased, cheap heroin has flooded the state to fill the market with deadly consequences.
In 2013 the overall number of accidental drug overdoses in Maine was high, but relatively steady. However the percent of those deaths that were heroin related jumped from just 4 percent of the total in 2010 to almost 20 percent of the total in 2013.
Henry 'Skip' Gates is in a documentary ‘The Opiate Effect’ that features the story of his son's tragic death. Henry has spoken to high school students around the Northeast about the families expeirance. He urges the students to think twice about using heroin even once.
Schools or organizations interested in hosting Skip Gates for a presentation of ‘The Opiate Effect’ can contact Heather Putnam with the United States Attorney’s Office to schedule a visit.
Incomplete data on 2014 suggests that the number of heroin-related deaths will increase again.