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Maine Drug Threat Assessment Update
August 2003


Treatment data indicate that heroin is widely abused in Maine. According to the Maine Office of Substance Abuse, the number of heroin-related treatment admissions increased from 396 in SFY2000 to 816 in SFY2002. (See Table 1 in Overview section.) Heroin abusers in Maine generally are between 18 and 30 years of age. They typically administer the drug via snorting until their tolerance levels increase and they are no longer able to experience the euphoric effect of the drug. At that point they often progress to injecting the drug. Some abusers also combine heroin with powdered cocaine, commonly known as speedballing, which increases the risk of overdose. However, data regarding heroin-related deaths in the state are not available. According to the 2002 Maine Youth Drug and Alcohol Use Survey (MYDAUS), 1.3 percent of twelfth grade students in the state reported having abused heroin in the past month.


Prescription Narcotics and Opiates

Prescription narcotics are natural or synthetic opioids/opiates including codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone (Lortab, Lorcet, Vicodin), hydromorphone (Dilaudid), methadone, morphine, oxycodone (OxyContin, Percodan, Tylox, Percocet), and propoxyphene (Darvocet). Narcotics are prescribed for pain relief but often are abused for the euphoric effects they produce. Possible side effects of narcotic abuse include drowsiness, respiratory depression, constricted pupils, and nausea.

Heroin produces similar physiological effects to those produced by prescription narcotics. Abusers of prescription narcotics often consider heroin a viable substitute for those drugs. Treatment providers in Maine expect that as law enforcement and legislative efforts become more effective in decreasing the availability of illegally distributed prescription narcotics, thus increasing the street price of these drugs, abusers of prescription narcotics increasingly will switch to heroin.

Heroin, primarily South American heroin, is readily available in Maine's southern cities and towns and increasingly is available in rural areas. Thirty-three of the 42 law enforcement respondents to the NDTS 2002 (see text box) in Maine reported the availability of heroin as high or medium. According to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency (MDEA), state and local task force officials seized 3,183 grams of heroin in fiscal year (FY) 2002. Heroin-related arrests (109) represented 21 percent of MDEA arrests (520) in FY2002. U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) data indicate that 11.8 percent of drug-related federal sentences in Maine were heroin-related in FY2001, compared with 7.2 percent nationwide. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Portland Resident Office, heroin sold for $6,000 to $8,000 per ounce, $250 to $300 per gram, and $35 to $60 per bag in the first quarter of FY2003. Purity levels ranged from 50 to 90 percent during that period, according to the DEA Portland Resident Office.

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National Drug Threat Survey

The National Drug Threat Survey (NDTS) 2002 was administered by NDIC to a representative sample of state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States to assess the availability, abuse, and overall threat posed by all major drugs. NDIC received 2,906 survey responses from law enforcement agencies, an overall response rate of 80 percent. Survey respondents were asked to rank the greatest drug threats in their areas and to indicate the level of availability for each major drug type. They also were asked to provide information on specific groups involved in the transportation and distribution of illicit drugs. Responding agencies also provided narrative assessments of various aspects of the overall drug situation and the threat that specific drugs posed to their areas. Survey responses are used by NDIC to substantiate and augment drug threat information obtained from other federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

Caucasian criminal groups, local independent dealers, and abusers are the primary transporters of heroin to Maine. These transporters typically travel to Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts, via private or rental vehicles to purchase gram quantities of heroin, primarily from Dominican criminal groups, then transport it back to the state for distribution. They also transport heroin into the state from Boston, Haverhill, Lynn, New Bedford, and Worcester, Massachusetts, and Hartford, Connecticut, in the same manner, albeit to a lesser extent.

Wholesale-level heroin distribution in Maine is extremely limited. However, MDEA reports that Massachusetts-based Dominican criminal groups occasionally travel to Maine to sell gram quantities of heroin to retail-level distributors. The heroin sold by these groups typically is packaged in "fingers"--cut-off fingers of surgical gloves.

Caucasian criminal groups, local independent dealers, and abusers are the principal retail-level heroin distributors in Maine. Retail-level heroin distribution typically occurs from private residences, bars, and other public areas. Heroin sold at the retail level most often is packaged in small glassine bags, many of which are stamped with a logo.

Heroin distribution and abuse are not normally associated with violent crime in Maine. However, many heroin abusers commit theft and burglary and engage in drug distribution to fund heroin purchases. In April 2003 Maine law enforcement officials arrested two men who had committed more than 80 burglaries in the state in order to fund their heroin addictions.

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