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Maine Drug Threat Assessment
Heroin availability and abuse are increasing in Maine, reflecting a trend noted throughout New England. South American heroin is the predominant type in the state. The MDEA Task Forces in Augusta, Bangor (Hancock, Penobscot, Piscataquis, and Somerset Counties), Lyman (York County), and Portland all report increases in heroin abuse during FY2000. Only authorities in northern Maine (Aroostook and Washington Counties) report no significant heroin abuse problem. However, law enforcement sources believe that could change as individuals in those counties currently paying $80 for an 80-mg tablet of OxyContin discover that heroin use provides similar effects at a lower cost. Dominican criminal groups operating in Massachusetts are the primary suppliers of heroin in the state. Independent Caucasian dealers form the backbone of retail heroin operations in Maine.
High purity South American heroin retailed in Maine is attractive especially to youth because it can be effectively snorted, eliminating the risk and stigma associated with injection. At the same time, many new users believe snorting will not lead to addiction. Unfortunately, as addiction develops and tolerance levels increase, those users often switch to the more "efficient" method of administration--injection.
Maine health data show the abuse of heroin is increasing and Maine's Office of Substance Abuse reports that heroin has surpassed cocaine as the primary drug health threat in the state. The number of heroin overdose deaths increased from two in 1995 to eight in 1998. The total number of clients admitted to drug treatment programs for heroin abuse continues to increase; there was a 29 percent rise during the first 9 months of 2000. Moreover, heroin treatment admissions have consistently surpassed cocaine admissions since 1997, and during the first 9 months of 2000, heroin treatment admissions outpaced cocaine admissions by 59 percent. The number of clients admitted to treatment facilities for heroin abuse increased steadily from 1995 (205) through September 2000 (374). Correlating with this data, employees at Shaw House, a shelter for teens in Bangor, first noticed clients using heroin in the fall of 1999.
Because of the increase in the number of heroin and other opiate addicts admitted to treatment facilities, Acadia Hospital officials attempted to open the first methadone clinic in the city of Bangor and the third in the state. Hospital officials planned to offer a methadone treatment program in the spring of 2000, but opposition by Bangor City officials led to a contracted public debate. City and state officials finally reached an agreement to open the facility. The projected opening date is April 2001.
Law enforcement also notes that heroin abuse is rising in the state. The MDEA reports a growing heroin abuse problem in most areas of the state in FY2000. The MDEA Task Force in Augusta reports that heroin abuse is a significant problem, especially in coastal areas. The Bangor Police Department (BPD) reported a dramatic increase in heroin abuse in 1999 based on fatal heroin overdoses, heroin-related treatment center admissions, and crimes attributed to addicts seeking money to support their heroin habits. The BPD further cites heroin as the primary drug threat in the community, Maine's third largest city. The MDEA Bangor Task Force reports that the heroin addict population is growing significantly with treatment facilities overwhelmed by the number of addicts seeking help. The Lyman MDEA Task Force reports that heroin abuse continues to increase, and is reflected in the number of methadone clinic clients. The MDEA Portland Task Force reports there are over 900 hardcore addicts in the Portland area and notes that the number of younger users and the number of heroin overdoses are increasing. Only authorities in Aroostook and Washington Counties in northern Maine report insignificant heroin use. However, law enforcement sources believe that could change as people in these counties that are currently paying $80 for an 80-mg tablet of OxyContin discover that heroin use provides similar effects at a lower cost.
Heroin availability is increasing in Maine. Typically, South American heroin, the predominant type in the state, is transported to Maine packaged in glassine bags ready for retail distribution. However, the MDEA and the DEA report an atypical seizure of 3 ounces of unmilled heroin in the Bangor area in the fall of 1999. This seizure may indicate that the heroin market in Bangor has developed to the point where some organizations consider it feasible to mill heroin within the state. An August 2000 heroin seizure was the first major seizure on Mount Desert Island--home of Acadia National Park and the shopping mecca of Bar Harbor. Five island residents were arrested, and over 1,000 bags of heroin intended for the more than 40 Mount Desert Island heroin addicts were seized.
The MDEA reports that heroin availability is increasing in most areas of the state. The Augusta MDEA Task Force reports that heroin prices are down and purity is up. The Bangor MDEA Task Force reports heroin availability is surging with many individuals once noted for dealing cocaine switching to heroin because of the growing demand. Heroin is also available in increasing quantities and higher purity levels in the Portland area, according to the MDEA Portland Task Force. At the retail level, prices for heroin in Portland range from $8 to $40 per bag with purity ranging from 50 to 87 percent. The increasing availability of heroin is reflected in MDEA statistics. MDEA heroin-related arrests rose 40 percent from FY1999 (50) to FY2000 (70). The percentage of MDEA arrests that are heroin related increased from 7.7 percent in FY1999 to 9.6 percent in FY2000. During the same time period, MDEA heroin seizures increased by 166 percent, from 194 grams in FY1999 to 517 grams in FY2000.
Statistics correlating heroin distribution and abuse with violence in Maine are not available. Heroin users generally do not commit violent acts while under the influence of the drug. However, the BPD notes that property crimes go up with increasing heroin abuse as addicts seek cash to pay for their costly addictions. Moreover, the potential for violence exists at the distribution level during disputes over drug territories and profits.
There are no known incidents of opium poppy cultivation or heroin production in Maine. However, there is a possibility that a heroin milling operation exists in Maine since 3 ounces of unmilled heroin were seized in the Bangor area in the fall of 1999.
Heroin is produced in four source regions: Southwest Asia, Southeast Asia, South America, and Mexico. Heroin is refined from opium harvested from the opium poppy, an annual plant with a 3- to 5-month life cycle. Only one crop per year is grown in regions with distinct seasons but it can be cultivated year round in areas with more temperate climates such as Mexico and Colombia.
South America, primarily Colombia, is a significant source
of heroin smuggled into the United States. South American heroin
predominates in the northeast market (Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire,
Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and
Pennsylvania) because of its low price and high purity, according to the
DEA's Domestic Monitor Program (DMP) and Heroin Signature Program (HSP).
Dominican DTOs are the primary wholesale heroin suppliers in Maine
insuring the predominance of South American heroin in the state.
Private automobiles are most commonly used to transport heroin to Maine. Many heroin dealers from Maine travel Interstate 95 to reach their suppliers in cities such as Lawrence, Lowell, and Lynn, Massachusetts. In some instances, these dealers conceal the heroin within their body cavities during the drive to Maine. In the neighboring state of Connecticut, the Hartford Police Department reports that it is not unusual to seize an automobile en route from New York City containing traps concealing over 4,000 glassine bags of heroin. It is probable that heroin is transported to Maine in the same manner by larger distribution groups.
Dominican DTOs are the primary suppliers of South American heroin in Maine. They supply independent dealers who travel from Maine to several Massachusetts cities including Lawrence and Lowell. The MDEA Augusta Task Force reports the pattern of heroin distribution from Massachusetts suppliers to dealers who travel from market areas in Maine remains steady. Heroin dealers from Rockland and Waldoboro, Maine, travel to New Bedford, Massachusetts; dealers from Kennebec County, Maine, travel to Worcester, Massachusetts; and dealers from Bath and Brunswick, Maine, travel to Lawrence, Lowell, and Lynn, Massachusetts.
Dominican DTOs increased their drug trafficking activities in the Northeast during the past decade and have developed sophisticated methods of operation. Most of the heroin distributed by Dominican DTOs is transported to New York City from South America by couriers on commercial airlines. While New York City remains the primary distribution center, Dominican DTOs now use Philadelphia and the Boston area, including Lowell and Lawrence, as secondary wholesale distribution centers. Dominican criminal groups operating at the wholesale or retail levels have been reported throughout New England and, in particular, in the Maine cities of Auburn, Augusta, Bangor, Houlton, Lewiston, Portland, and Waterville.
Although the user-to-dealer transformation is common, there also are larger distribution operations within the state. The MDEA, the DEA, the Brunswick Police Department, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) investigated a Dominican criminal group distributing cocaine, crack cocaine, and 87-percent-pure heroin through local street dealers in Portland. As a result of this 1997 investigation, 16 suspects were arrested and convicted.
Independent Caucasian dealers form the backbone of retail heroin operations in Maine. These dealers travel to cities in Massachusetts and to New York City to purchase heroin. Most heroin retailers sell the drug to support their own heroin habits. Often, new addicts travel out of Maine seeking lower heroin prices and, after finding a source, the addicts purchase more than they need for personal use. They sell the excess heroin in Maine, taking advantage of the retail cost differential between distribution cities like Lowell and Lynn and Maine market cities like Bath and Portland. The MDEA reports that heroin can be purchased in distribution cities in Massachusetts for $4 to $6 per retail unit and sold in cities in Maine for $8 to $45.
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