RUMFORD — Dismantling an opioid drug ring in the River Valley could lead to serious withdrawal issues for users, police said Thursday.
"This is a linked group and this is a substantial quantity of heroin," said Tony Milligan, a deputy supervisor and special agent with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.
Heroin has been linked with overdose deaths from oxycodone, which is a prescription pain killer and an opiate similar to heroin. Heroin customers use at least one bag a day, he said. He estimated that up to 4,700 bags per day were being delivered to the area.
"If you figure that quantity of heroin, it's really an alarming realization of just how many people this affects in the River Valley area," Milligan said.
Generally, oxycodone sells for $1 a milligram, but what's popular now are 30-milligram tablets that sell for $30 to $35 each, he said. Heroin is selling for $25 a bag.
"It's a very, very powerful opiate narcotic that very quickly causes addiction," Milligan said. "And it's not something that you can just take once or twice a week. It's a daily thing."
He said the Rumford-Mexico heroin ring started by selling marijuana, then began selling oxycodone, almost exclusively.
"This has been a group of individuals that have been working together in this heroin organization, and unfortunately it spreads like wildfire," he said.
He added, "Again, with recreational drugs, you spend your money and get high. But with heroin, you have to get your heroin every day, even if you have to commit a robbery at a store or at somebody's house, commit burglaries, or whatever it takes to go get the money that you need to go get some heroin; not necessarily to get high, but just to feel normal."
Because of the disruption of heroin flowing into the River Valley area, Milligan said he expects a drain on resources and an increase in hospital patients.
"The withdrawal effects from drugs like heroin or oxycodone have been described as like a very severe flu-like symptom, and the people that are experiencing such withdrawals tell you that they truly feel like they are dying," he said.
Drug addicts who are accustomed to taking heroin once or twice a day are suddenly going to be forced to stop or to seek heroin or a replacement drug elsewhere, he said.
"The unfortunate reality of (the heroin seizures) is that there's going to be an awful lot of very sick people," Milligan said.