AUGUSTA — Nearly $1 million in federal grant funding will be used to hire four new drug agents and specialized equipment for responding to suspected methamphetamine labs.

The U.S. Department of Justice awarded $905,102 to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency, Gov. Paul LePage announced Tuesday. The competitive grant was the third-largest of $6 million awarded to 10 state drug enforcement agencies. Only California and West Virginia received bigger grants.

The two-year grant is part of the Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services’ anti-meth program. It requires no state match.

The funding will allow MDEA Director Roy McKinney to hire four new drug agents to work exclusively on identifying and investigating complaints of suspected methamphetamine manufacturing, according to a release from the governor’s office. The MDEA also will purchase specialized equipment for agents who respond to the suspected meth lab sites, which are particularly dangerous because components used to create the drug can be explosive when mixed together.

“Methamphetamine is a serious drug problem in Maine,” McKinney said in the release. “The numbers of labs and arrests have increased in recent years, which are the reasons Maine applied for the federal funding earlier in the year. This added federal funding will allow MDEA to pursue this dangerous drug threat that affects the health and safety of Maine residents.”

So far in 2014, the MDEA has responded to 20 methamphetamine labs across the state — as many as in all of 2013.

In 2012, 32 people were arrested for methamphetamine-related crimes, with 51 arrested in 2013, according to the release.

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