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Maine Drug Threat Assessment
Other Dangerous Drugs
Authorities in Maine report an increase in the abuse of other dangerous drugs (ODD), noting the abuse of prescription drugs as their major concern. OxyContin, the diverted pharmaceutical drug of choice, retails on the street for $1 per mg ($80 per 80-mg tablet). The abuse of pharmaceuticals is increasing throughout the state, and has become the primary drug threat in Washington County according to the MDEA. The large increase in the number of Maine treatment admissions for opiate addiction during 1999 and 2000--excluding those resulting from heroin abuse--is an indicator of the extent of the prescription drug problem. LSD and psilocybin mushrooms continue to be secondary drug problems in Maine while MDMA is just beginning to emerge. LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and MDMA are attractive to younger users and have been seized at raves in Maine.
The abuse of prescription drugs is on the rise. OxyContin is the most widely abused prescription drug and retails for $1 per mg ($80 per 80-mg tablet). The total number of clients admitted to drug treatment programs for opiate abuse--excluding heroin--has risen rapidly, outpacing the percentage increases in all other types of drug addiction admissions in Maine. According to the Maine Office of Substance Abuse, these admissions stem from the abuse of OxyContin and other opiate-based prescription drugs. The 78 percent increase from 1998 to 1999 (199 to 355) and the 47 percent increase from 1999 through September 2000 (355 to 521) are indicators of a rapidly escalating problem.
Law enforcement also reports that the use of diverted prescription drugs is rising in the state. MDEA reports that the abuse of pharmaceuticals, primarily OxyContin, is the leading drug problem in Washington County. The Police Chief in Calais, Washington County, believes the increase in crime in Calais is the result of individuals attempting to obtain money for the illegal purchase of costly prescription drugs. Burglary, bad check writing, prostitution, and shoplifting are among the criminal activities in Calais linked to prescription drug abuse. The MDEA Augusta, Bangor, Houlton, Lewiston, Lyman, and Portland Task Forces all report an increase in the use of diverted prescription drugs.
In May 2000, prescription drug abuse and its impact on the general public triggered a special report in The Bangor Daily News entitled, "Prescription for Abuse." In the article, the author outlined a step-by-step method one addict used to get high on OxyContin, documented crimes committed to pay for prescription drugs, reported on the child protection cases involving addicted mothers, listed symptoms of withdrawal from opiates, reported on the abuse of prescription drugs on the two Passamaquoddy Indian reservations in Washington County, and looked at the dilemma facing physicians with regard to patient pain management versus potential patient drug abuse. Another article was published in the same newspaper on May 26, 2000, in which the author reported that a Washington County grand jury indicted 10 people on May 25, 2000, on charges involving prescription drugs. Those indicted included a couple, aged 18 and 20, accused of stealing pain pills belonging to a cancer patient. The pills were stolen while the patient and his wife were attending a benefit dinner being held to raise funds for his care.
Both the state and federal governments have launched new initiatives because of the rising concern over OxyContin and other prescription drug abuse. Currently, the Maine Attorney General's Office is proposing a legislative initiative seeking to control the illegal diversion and abuse of prescription narcotics. At the same time, the U.S. Attorney for the state of Maine is issuing a letter warning health care providers about the abuse of OxyContin, is actively supporting a group of doctors touring the state lecturing physicians on the proper prescribing of OxyContin, and is raising the issue with the media to increase public awareness.
The MDEA reports that diverted pharmaceuticals are readily available throughout the state and combating the problem is heavily taxing law enforcement resources. The DEA reports that diversions usually occur when physicians and pharmacists illegally sell prescriptions and when physicians overprescribe pain medications. MDEA diverted pharmaceutical seizures increased by 800 percent between FY1997 (1,327) and FY1999 (11,938) prior to dropping by 62 percent in FY2000 (4,563). MDEA pharmaceutical drug-related arrests increased by 218 percent from FY1997 (49) to FY2000 (156), representing 21 percent of all MDEA arrests in FY2000, up sharply from 6 percent in FY1997.
The MDEA Augusta Task Force reports that prescription drug diversion is an "ever-burgeoning" problem. The MDEA Bangor Task Force reports diversion cases have tripled over previous years. The MDEA Houlton Task Force reports that more defendants were charged with distribution of synthetic prescription drugs than any other drug in FY2000. The MDEA Lewiston Task Force reports pharmaceutical investigations increased eightfold in the previous 5 years. The MDEA Lyman Task Force reports an "alarming" increase in the illegal sale of prescription drugs and reports a 1999 seizure of 55,000 units of OxyContin with a street value of $2.2 million. The MDEA Portland Task Force reports a large increase in pharmaceutical related cases due to the popularity of OxyContin which is consistently available on the street at $1 per mg.
Prescription drugs are transported into Maine through legitimate pharmaceutical distribution channels and are intended for the treatment of illness. Some pharmaceutical drugs, Dilaudid in particular, are smuggled from Canada to supply the local market in Maine. The MDEA reports individuals travel from Calais, cross the border to St. Stephen, New Brunswick, purchase Dilaudid--either at pharmacies using prescriptions or illegally from Canadian dealers--and return to the United States.
Pharmaceuticals are diverted or distributed in several ways. Addicts often meet their own needs by stealing, forging, and altering prescriptions, or by becoming a patient of several doctors to obtain multiple prescriptions for the same pain medication. First-time dealers also supply pharmaceuticals to addicts. First-time dealers include those covered by some form of insurance who deceive doctors with false symptoms, and those who have seriously ill family members or are themselves seriously ill and have access to pain medication prescriptions. There are also experienced cocaine and heroin dealers that turn to prescription drug sales because of the profits involved. They supply individuals who are addicted to prescription drugs but cannot meet their own needs through personal diversion activities.
One MDEA investigation in 1999 was pursued at the request of a large pharmaceutical chain with stores throughout the state. The investigation determined that an individual obtained tens of thousands of dosage units of medication from this chain's pharmacies by claiming Social Security and Medicare benefits under different names. The investigation resulted in drug- and fraud-related charges being filed against the individual. In June 2000, a man was arrested for selling $8,000 worth of OxyContin per week. The man and his wife received Medicaid and Social Security benefits, and the wife was prescribed OxyContin to control cancer-related pain. The husband was accused of selling the excess pills. In February 2000, 18 individuals were charged with supplying prescription drugs--including OxyContin and Dilaudid--to individuals on the Passamaquoddy Tribe's two reservations in Washington County. The action of one of those charged clearly illustrates the strain on law enforcement resources resulting from these distribution activities. This person pled guilty to the February offense on October 2, 2000, remained free on post-conviction bail, and was arrested again on October 6, 2000, for felony trafficking that was ongoing since his arrest in February. A 2000 DEA investigation of a prescription drug distribution group led to the identification of the group's supplier, a local Portland neurologist. The doctor diverted large quantities of pharmaceuticals, including OxyContin, to this group in order to support his own crack cocaine habit. The neurologist committed suicide before the investigation was completed, but the distribution group was successfully disbanded.
LSD (lysergic acid diethylamide), also known as acid, boomers, and yellow sunshines, is a hallucinogen that induces abnormalities in sensory perceptions. The effects of LSD are unpredictable depending on the amount taken, the environment in which it is used, and the user's personality, mood, and expectations. Users may feel the effects of the drug for 30 to 90 minutes. Physical effects include dilated pupils, higher body temperature, increased heart rate and blood pressure, sweating, loss of appetite, sleeplessness, dry mouth, and tremor. LSD users report that numbness, weakness, trembling, and/or nausea are common. Two long-term disorders associated with LSD are persistent psychosis and hallucinogen persisting perception disorder (flashbacks). LSD is typically taken by mouth and is sold in tablet, capsule, and in liquid form, as well as on pieces of paper that have absorbed the drug.
LSD is a secondary ODD problem in Maine. LSD seizures and arrests by MDEA sharply peaked in FY1999. LSD dosage unit seizures increased from 1,894 in FY1998 to 11,956 in FY1999. LSD arrests nearly doubled, from 15 in FY1998 to 29 in FY1999. The Augusta Task Force Office reports that LSD is the "hard" drug of choice for individuals in their early twenties or younger. The Bangor Task Force reports an increase in LSD in its area when colleges are in session. The other task forces report very little LSD activity with the Portland Task Force noting that strong enforcement actions designed to keep raves in check may have had a positive impact on the use and availability of LSD in its region. College students who purchase their drugs from West Coast distributors at rock concerts are a major retail source for LSD in Maine. LSD is normally retailed at music concerts and raves in college towns.
Psilocybin is the primary psychoactive ingredient in psilocybin mushrooms. Known as "Teonanacatl" or "divine flesh" by the Aztecs, this mushroom is consumed dried or as a white powder. Consuming 10 to 60 mg can cause altered states of consciousness, but there may be fewer or less intense feelings of panic than those experienced with LSD.
Both the MDEA and the DEA report that psilocybin mushrooms are widely available throughout the state. The market for these mushrooms is similar to that for LSD--users in their early twenties or younger. Abusers are known to make connections with suppliers through music concerts. Overnight package delivery services are used to ship mushrooms from suppliers in the southwestern United States. Abusers also grow their own supply by using commercially available cultivation kits.
MDMA (3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine), also called Adam, ecstasy, XTC, E, or X, is a stimulant and low level hallucinogen. MDMA was patented in Germany in 1914 and was sometimes given to psychiatric patients to assist in psychotherapy, a practice never approved by the American Psychological Association or the Food and Drug Administration. Sometimes called the hug drug, users say it makes them feel good. However, use of the drug may cause psychological effects similar to those associated with methamphetamine and cocaine abuse including confusion, depression, sleep problems, anxiety, and paranoia. The physical effects include muscle tension, involuntary teeth clenching, blurred vision, and increased heart rate and blood pressure.
MDMA use can cause a marked increase in body temperature leading to muscle breakdown, kidney failure, and cardiovascular system failure. MDMA use may also lead to heart attack, stroke, and seizure as reported in some fatal cases. Recent research links MDMA to long term, possibly permanent damage to parts of the brain that are critical to thought and memory. There is also evidence that individuals who develop a rash after using MDMA may risk severe liver damage or other serious side effects.
Both the MDEA and the DEA report that MDMA is an emerging threat. The MDEA reports some low level MDMA distribution in areas covered by the Augusta and Lewiston Task Forces with increasing distribution noted by the Lyman and Portland Task Forces. The Lyman Task Force reports that several of the cocaine dealers in the area now sell MDMA along with cocaine. Early in 1999, the MDEA Task Force in Portland launched an investigation of the Metropolis, a local nightclub that held rave parties on a regular basis. The April 1999 execution of a search warrant led to the arrest of six people accused of selling MDMA and ketamine, and five others accused of possession of various drugs. Law enforcement encourages media coverage of such arrests because it quickly alerts parents to the fact that these types of dance parties, despite assurances to the contrary by their children, are illegal drug parties. In May 2000, the DEA in Portland reported that MDMA abuse was beginning to emerge and predicted that raves would be held north of Portland in the future. Expectation became reality with the arrest of some rave participants at the Maine Civic Center in Lewiston--north of Portland--in both June and October 2000.
Methamphetamine, also known as meth, crank, ice, and crystal, is a synthetic stimulant. It mimics adrenaline, stimulating the central nervous system, and is very addictive, causing withdrawal symptoms more intense and longer lasting than cocaine. Long term use can cause psychological effects that resemble schizophrenia. Individuals can experience anger, panic, aggression, paranoia, delusions of insects on the skin, and homicidal and suicidal thoughts. Researchers report that methamphetamine users show signs of brain damage as well.
In 1999, methamphetamine was beginning to emerge as a drug threat in Maine, particularly in Aroostook County. All six MDEA Task Forces reported some level of methamphetamine activity; the Houlton Task Force reported the most, followed by the Bangor Task Force. Methamphetamine seizures by MDEA sharply increased from 1.01 kilogram in FY1997 to 4.22 kilograms in FY1999. Aroostook County methamphetamine seizures represented over 4 kilograms of the FY1999 total, outpacing those in all the rest of New England combined. Employees of an Aroostook mental health facility found that abuse of methamphetamine was spreading to white collar workers and a growing number of male and female nurses were seeking treatment for their methamphetamine addictions in 1999. According to the MDEA, violence and property crimes linked to methamphetamine abuse were occurring throughout Aroostook County.
In the year 2000, authorities no longer considered methamphetamine an emerging threat in Maine. Although methamphetamine abuse continues and there are active dealers, a strong statewide demand has not developed and a proactive law enforcement effort by the DEA and the MDEA has reduced availability.
Mexican DTOs producing methamphetamine in laboratories in Mexico and the western United States are the primary suppliers of methamphetamine found in New England, according to U.S. law enforcement. A large number of independent producers also operate laboratories in many areas of the United States, contributing significantly to the supply of methamphetamine. There are four primary methods of producing methamphetamine. In September 2000, a joint operation between the DEA and the MDEA seized the first methamphetamine laboratory in Maine since 1991. An individual who recently moved from Arizona to Maine was responsible for the establishment of this methamphetamine laboratory in an apartment in Vassalboro, a city northeast of Augusta. The DEA reports that the red phosphorus (ephedrine/pseudoephedrine) method was used to produce methamphetamine in this instance. The MDEA believes this methamphetamine laboratory represents an isolated incident and does not heighten the diminished methamphetamine threat.
Methamphetamine is transported to Maine from the southwestern United States in automobiles, commercial airlines, trucks, and by package delivery and mail services. In a majority of the investigations in Aroostook County, methamphetamine was transported to Maine in express mail packages.
Methamphetamine distribution in Maine occurs in several ways. Outlaw motorcycle gangs (OMGs), migrant workers, and addicts who have become dealers distribute methamphetamine in the state. The MDEA Task Forces in Augusta, Lyman, and Portland (Cumberland County) report methamphetamine use at raves held in their jurisdictions. The MDEA Task Forces in Augusta and Bangor report methamphetamine distribution by members of the Saracens and Hells Angels OMGs. The DEA in Portland reports that some Mexican migrant workers who come to Maine to harvest blueberries maintain connections to methamphetamine producers located in the southwestern United States and arrange shipments to local dealers.
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