PARIS — Oxford County police and Sheriff’s Department officials say heroin continues to be the drug of choice and at the root of most, if not all, serious crimes.
It’s available, it’s very cheap and Oxford County lacks sufficient resources to appropriately respond to the problem, according to Oxford County law enforcement officials.
“The drug problem has an effect on all of us and how we do our business,” said Oxford County Sheriff Wayne Gallant, who has lobbied for additional drug agents for years.
In addition to Gallant and Chief Deputy Hart Daley from the Sheriff’s Office, Paris police Chief Michael Madden, Rumford police Chief Stacy Carter, Fryeburg police Chief Josh Potvin, Mexico police Chief Roy Hodsdon and Fryeburg Lt. Mike McAllister convened Tuesday morning to discuss topics of concern during their annual meeting with the county commissioners.
“We have a huge drug problem. There’s lots of heroin,” Carter told commissioners.
The heroin problem has been increasing over the last few years locally and statewide, the officials said, and statewide statistics back up the assertion. According to a report issued in 2014 by the Maine Office of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, overdose deaths involving heroin increased sharply from 2011 to 2012.
Madden said illegal use of prescription drugs became cost prohibitive in Maine — each pill costing between $30 and $40 — which probably accounted for the shift to heroin, which is cheap and available in Maine.
The problem of illegal use of prescription drugs is still out there, Potvin said. He said he has seen an increase in prescriptions drug use, specifically Adderall, in Fryeburg. The drug is often used in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Potvin said his town may see a difference in the drug use because of the influx of thousands of tourists, particularly the 1,000 to 2,000 campers who converge each summer on the Saco River.
Police in Oxford County have been calling for more enforcement manpower for years, but funding remains problematic.
The loss of a resident agent in 2011 due to the end of a grant made drug enforcement work harder and more expensive for local agencies and the need to hire more drug agents urgent.
Although the county commissioners were able to get money into last year’s budget for a drug agent, more are needed in Oxford County, law enforcement officials said. In 2013 the Oxford County Sheriff’s Office received funding for a Maine Drug Enforcement agent for southern and central Oxford County.
The agent position supplemented a second agent who works with the Rumford Police Department and investigates drug crimes largely in the northern half of the county.
“There are multiple drug agents out there but not enough for our area,” Daley said.
Madden said there is huge money available for things that attract tourism, a big industry in Maine, but not enough to tackle the drug problem.
“Just give me money for a drug officer,” he said. “It’s a numbers game right now. We just need more money.”