MDEA gets federal grant to combat methamphetamine

Opiate abuse has been a prevalent issue in Maine for almost two decades, but a new drug is rapidly coming to the forefront. There has been a recent rise in both the use and manufacturing of methamphetamine, with 2013 accounting for the highest number of reported cases in the state’s history. As of this week, a state team has already responded to 20 methamphetamine manufacturing operations since the beginning of the year—the same number of cases recorded in all of 2013 combined.

Last week, the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency received a boon in the form of a $905,000 federal grant from the United States Department of Justice, Community Oriented Policing Services to combat the use and manufacture of methamphetamine in the State of Maine. According to a news release by Governor Paul LePage, the funds will provide the MDEA with new equipment, as well as pay for the salaries of four additional drug agents over two years.

The grant, one of ten awarded by the Justice Department, was the third largest (behind West Virginia and California) in the recent funding cycle which totaled $6 million.

While the scope of Maine’s meth problem has not yet reached the degree that it has in many other states, there are a number of factors indicating that state law enforcement agencies are fighting an uphill battle. According to the governors news release, arrests related to methamphetamine rose from 32 in 2012 to 51 in 2013.

In addition, much of Maine’s methamphetamine is produced quickly on a small scale using the over-the-counter cold and allergy drug called pseudoephedrine.

Containing meth production within the state has been further complicated by the failure of a prescription-only law that died in committee in 2011. Such a law would restrict pseudoephedrine sales only to people with prescriptions for the drug.

Many residents are also worried about the lack of resources for those who become addicted. “State funding for substance abuse programs has been cut back, and access to inpatient and outpatient treatment has become difficult,” the Editorial Board of the Portland Press Herald reported in “Our View: Maine playing catch-up in anti-meth efforts,” an op-ed posted last week.
“…We’ve also lost out by repeatedly turning down federal Affordable Care Act funds to expand MaineCare, which would have included drug treatment,” the Board said.

Kennebec Valley has already been touched by methamphetamine trafficking and production. In March of this year, six people were arrested at the Waterville Fireside Inn for manufacturing the drug in one of the motel wings. Scores of state drug agents and police were involved in the bust, and due to the dangerous nature of the production process (which involves poisonous, flammable and explosive chemicals), the hotel had to be evacuated.

Police had been investigating the suspected drug ring in the Waterville and Oakland area for about a month, but the event prompted action from LePage. Following the bust, LePage’s press secretary said that the Governor decided to expand the MDEA’s funding and personnel by adding 4 judges, 14 agents and $40,000 to their available resources.

With the increase in drug cases over the course of this year, extra help from the state and the federal government is a welcome change for many Maine officials. “It’s the only one we’ve had, but we always worry,” said Waterville Chief of Police Joseph Massey, speaking about the March bust. “It’s a dangerous drug and it’s a dangerous process. If you look at what’s going on around the state, what’s happened once could certainly happen again.”

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