A Maine family grieving after the loss of their 36-year-old son Chris Hallee from an opioid overdose earlier this month implored friends and family members in an obituary published in the Portland Press Herald to advocate for the harm-reducing and treatment services which they feel could have saved Hallee’s life.
According to the family’s account, Hallee, who worked in Portland and grew up in Augusta, succumbed on Nov. 14 to the effects of an overdose of an unknown mixture of opiates after struggling with opioid use disorder.
“Chris’s death was sudden and tragic; it was also avoidable,” Hallee’s obituary read. “At the time of his death, Chris was seeking treatment for his addiction, but was unable to find a rehab bed in Maine. He died as his family was trying to find one for him in another state.”
The family also expressed that they did not want Hallee’s memory to be forever linked with the stigma of opioid use disorder.
“Chris’s drug addiction may have ended his life, but it did not define it,” the family said, going on to describe Hallee as a kind and generous person who loved people, adding, “He was happiest when he made others happy. He collected friends the way other people collect things.”
In Maine, the number of opioid deaths spiked by 40 percent in 2016, and grew by another 11 percent in 2017. Other states have seen reduced numbers of opioid overdose deaths in the last year while Maine now ranks sixth in the nation for rising overdose deaths.
Advocates are pressuring Maine lawmakers to take a more proactive approach to battling Maine’s ongoing opioid crisis, including increasing funding for sober-living homes and interventions such as clean syringe exchanges, mental health counseling, and case management services for people living with HIV and AIDS.
They are also organizing to get more low-income Mainers access to health coverage through Medicaid expansion to cover medication-assisted treatment with FDA-approved drugs such as methadone, naltrexone and buprenorphine, which can cut the mortality rate among opioid use disorder patients by half or more.
In Portland, where Hallee resided before he passed, advocates are working to establish an overdose prevention site, a supervised space for people to safely use and dispose of drugs, which mounting evidence shows also saves lives and reduces harm.
In lieu of flowers, Hallee’s family asked that donations be made in their son’s name to Operation HOPE, a diversionary program by the Waterville Police Department which connects people with Discovery House where they can receive counseling, medication maintenance, as well as aftercare planning.
“If Chris’s life or untimely death has touched your heart, please help his family honor his memory by making drug treatment in Maine a top priority with the facilities and resources needed to address what has become an epidemic in our state,” the family said in the obituary. “We hope that other families will not suffer as ours has and the world doesn’t lose another beautiful soul to this dreadful disease.”
(Photo of Maine State Capitol via Flickr.)