Woman's overdose death shows crisis in community

By Daniel Dunkle | Aug 08, 2018
Courtesy of: Bill Chittick Sarah Ann Chittick

Rockport — Behind the Nativity Lutheran Church on Old County Road there is a narrow walking trail through the tall grass of the field called Serenity Path by the churchgoers.

Here and there are little wooden bridges and a bench to sit on. On a hot, sunny summer afternoon it is a quiet, contemplative place. Along the trail a single flower in a sleeve showing it was purchased in a store lies wilted.

It was on this path that Sarah Ann Chittick, 34, lost her long battle with addiction.

According to her obituary, she died of an inhalant overdose. The Maine Medical Examiner's office is still investigating and awaiting the return of lab tests. Camden Detective Curt Andrick said her death is not considered suspicious.

Chittick had been staying at the Hospitality House homeless shelter next to the church. Following the Serenity Path leads directly to the back of the Hospitality House property.

Not long before her death, her father Bill Chittick remembers, she was in the process of putting her life back together after a lengthy struggle with addiction.

She had worked as a cashier at Hannaford Supermarket in Camden and she volunteered at PAWS Animal Adoption Center.

Chittick was originally from Ipswich, Mass., where she graduated high school in 2002. She had previously worked as a licensed massage therapist for a spa in Boston, according to her father. She wanted to be a veterinary technician.

By early this summer she was doing well. She was nine months sober, holding down a job and had lined up an apartment.

"First and foremost Sarah always wanted to help others before herself," her father said.

Then about a month ago, she relapsed, using aerosol to get high, and the situation began to unravel, her father said. She had also struggled with depression and anxiety.

"Sarah fought a lengthy battle with addiction and had experienced near fatal overdoses in the past," her obituary states. "Sarah's family truly loved her and tried to be as supportive as possible as she struggled with her addictions."

Chittick was found by one of the members of the Lutheran Church at about 11:30 a.m., July 29, and the setting and circumstances have generated concern among the congregation and the community.

Hospitality House leaders had seen Chittick as being on a positive trajectory, using her job as a stepping stone to better things and the loss was tragic for the Hospitality House community.

Executive Director Stephanie Primm said this is the first time anything like this has happened at the facility and noted that the shelter has strict policies in place to ensure safety and security. The shelter does not allow those staying there to use drugs or alcohol, and violations could mean losing shelter services. Primm said residents take that seriously.

However, shelter leaders said the scope of the community's addiction crisis is massive, and the shelter is not equipped to provide in-patient rehabilitation.

More than 400 Mainers died from drug overdoses in 2017, 11 in Knox County.

However, not all of those who find themselves needing the shelter's services have addiction problems, and Primm points out that, contrary to views many hold, almost all of the shelter residents have jobs. Locally, we are seeing a struggle among the working poor to survive.

In the obituary, Chittick's family urges others to be supportive of their family members who have addictions and guide them to rehabilitation "before it is too late."

Serenity Path behind the Lutheran Church on Old County Road is where Sarah Ann Chittick died. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
Along the walking path behind the Nativity Lutheran Church on Old County Road. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
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