Fairfield police Detective Shanna Blodgett, a 21-year veteran of the department, is seen last week with her patrol vehicle outside the police station. She says her focus is largely on illegal drugs and drug transactions in the town. Fairfield is among the law enforcement agencies in the state that are redirecting resources as drug arrests and fatal overdoses continue to rise. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Law enforcement agencies in central Maine continue to modify their operations to better respond to illegal drug sales amid record-high numbers of fatal overdoses and opioid arrests in the state.

Authorities in Fairfield and Skowhegan, for instance, are allocating more resources toward tracking down drug traffickers and preventing drug sales.

Fairfield Police Department recently strengthened its detective division because of “a huge elevation in drug-related activities.” Shanna Blodgett was promoted to detective after serving as an officer in town for more than 20 years. Her promotion was catalyzed by the increased presence of fentanyl and other opioids in the community, she said. Her investigations will focus largely on illegal drugs.

“Unfortunately, we have all seen a huge jump in drug-related activities,” Blodgett said. “Some reasons being the increase in poverty, untreated mental health disorders and the fact that the drugs are more easily accessible.”

Overdoses in Maine have risen steadily. Last year saw a record high number of drug deaths, with 715 people dying as a result of an overdose, according to a report from the state. The same report found that in 2021 there were 631 Mainers who died due to overdoses, which was up from 502 in 2020.

Four out of five drug-related deaths in the state were attributed to fentanyl, the Office of the Maine Attorney General said in a report released early this year. The trend doesn’t appear to be slowing in 2023, either. The most recent data from April shows that there were at least 201 fatal overdoses in Maine just a few months into the year, and 82% of them were attributed at least in part to fentanyl.


Some police agencies have shifted their focus from making arrests to providing treatment. Augusta police in 2021 began sending a licensed behavioral health clinician, rather than an officer, to calls involving nonfatal overdoses.

Kevin Lully, deputy chief of Augusta police, says the program represents the department’s shift toward community-based policing that destigmatizes substance abuse disorders.

“I think in order to be successful, law enforcement agencies need to be flexible,” Lully said. “We need to employ a combination of intervention, recovery options, the ability for people wanting help to receive it in a destigmatized fashion, heightened education, and community involvement.”

He added, “Police departments will never be successful in anything they attempt to do without the support of their community, and the involvement of the community they serve.”

Other police departments also have tried taking a more restorative approach to the drug epidemic. Waterville police started their Heroin Opiate Prevention Effort, or Operation HOPE, in 2017. Under the program, police provide substance abuse treatment to people coming to them for help, focusing on treatment rather than arrests as a way to curb drug use. Waterville officials say the program has helped more than 200 people recover from opioid addiction.

The push for greater treatment options comes amid a surge of fentanyl arrests in Maine, with 229 recorded statewide last year, according to the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. The figure marks a substantial increase from prior years when the number of arrests never exceeded 110.


Over that time arrests for other hard drugs fell or stayed relatively flat, according to data from the MDEA. Fifty-three people were arrested for heroin last year compared to 221 in 2018. Cocaine arrests followed a similar trend, falling from 184 in 2019 to 122 last year.

The MDEA says the numbers are a result of law enforcement agencies focusing their efforts on extended investigations and prosecuting drug traffickers rather than users.

Skowhegan police are among the agencies that have redirected resources in response to the drug trade.

Police there received approval last month from town officials to spend up to $12,000 for the purchase of the department’s first drug-detection dog. The canine will be used by law enforcement in both Somerset and Kennebec counties, and is expected to complete its required training in September, Skowhegan police Chief David Bucknam previously said.

“It’s time we start looking at bringing in a drug-sniffing dog,” Bucknam said while pitching the K9 program at an April town budget meeting. “We’ve got enough activity in this town … we need to start being a lot more vigilant about what we’re trying to do out there and to remove more of these drugs off our streets.”

Bucknam did not return a message Friday seeking additional details on the program.


Shifting police strategies are indicative of both how deeply the drug epidemic has impacted Maine, and how much work is still left to be done, according to University of Maine sociology professor Karyn Sporer.

“The reality is that the opioid epidemic in Maine touches every single person here,” said Sporer, whose background is in criminology and drug policy. “While it may not be a family member, everyone has a neighbor or a friend that’s been affected by it. More than a person a day died from some sort of overdose last year.”

The number of overdoses has prompted state agencies to make drug testing kits and overdose-reversing medicine more available. Maine has distributed 132,422 doses of the overdose treatment drug Narcan since 2019, according to Gov. Janet Mills’ office. Additionally, Mills’ administration announced just last week that it will provide $1 million worth of xylazine test strips in an attempt to curb drug deaths.

Sporer said much still needs to be done to make treatment accessible, but more people and institutions are becoming part of the effort to fight the drug epidemic.

“People are dying all around us — and it got way worse during the pandemic,” Sporer said. “That’s why the need for a wider conversation about this is so important.”

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