William Gates was a ski racing champion from Skowhegan, trained and educated at Carrabassett Valley Academy. After graduating, he headed to the University of Vermont with a presidential scholarship to study molecular genetics. Then, his life was cut short. At age 21, he died from a heroin overdose. Will had shown no signs of drug addiction before his death, but his choice to snort heroin cost him his life, his father, Henry “Skip” Gates explains to the high school students he visits around the Northeast. Six years after his son’s death in March 2009, Skip continues his crusade to warn the public about the dangers of the potent drug. The face of heroin abuse might be one you recognize, he warns.
Gates, the focus of a documentary called “The Opiate Effect,” cautions students against trying heroin even once. He’s now the subject of a public service announcement campaign aimed at Maine’s heroin epidemic, Maine Attorney General Janet Mills announced Friday. “Skip Gates’ story is very painful and very compelling,” Mills said in a news release. “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.” Death by drugs is frighteningly common in Maine. The tide is turning from prescription opioids such as OxyContin and Percocet toward cheap heroin now flooding the state. As doctors prescribe prescription narcotics more cautiously and drug makers produce harder-to-abuse formulations, heroin is becoming a drug of choice. In 2013, overdoses and related abuse claimed 176 Maine lives. Drugs killed more of the state’s residents than car crashes that year. Alarming as that rate is, it was largely in line with previous years. What changed was the percent of those deaths related to heroin — spiking from 4 percent in 2010 to nearly 20 percent in 2013. Data for 2014 is still being tabulated, but preliminary results suggest the number of Mainers dying from heroin will increase yet again, according to Mills. Schools or organizations interested in hosting Skip Gates for a presentation of “The Opiate Effect” may contact Heather Putnam with the U.S. Attorney’s Office.