PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland needle exchange program hosted a vigil in Monument Square Thursday night to remember nearly 200 locals who died from overdoses in the past year. It’s the fourth year in a row the program has hosted such a vigil. This year, however, instead of just grieving, they offered community members a way to fight back in the form of free naloxone and training.

Naloxone is an antidote that can save person overdosing on opiates. The needle exchange gave the drug, and instructions for use, to anyone in the community who asked. The idea was to arm as many people as possible, whether they are drug users or not.

“We really think of naloxone like a fire extinguisher,” said Zoe Odlin-Platz of the needle exchange. “Everyone should have it and never need to use it.”

Last year, 376 Mainers died of drug overdoses. That’s a 39 percent increase over 2015 when 272 people died, according to the Maine attorney general’s office.

The needle exchange program gave out 100 naloxone auto-injection kits, paid for by a grant from the manufacturer. The kits included an empty training version, along with two functioning doses. They’re administered like an EpiPen, with a needle to the thigh.

“We are living in a time where we have a lot of people who are affected by opiate use,” said Odlin-Platz. “This touches all of us.”

Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.