In the state of Maine, the most common drug of abuse is Marijuana, but all the drug problems combined are causing the need for Maine drug rehab to rise. The Marijuana that is found in Maine is normally grown locally or even transported into the state from New York, Massachusetts and Canada. The reason that the drugs are transported so easily into the state is the interstate that runs north to south making transportation easier. Interstate 95 is the most commonly traveled interstate for drug traffickers along the entire East coast of the United States. The coastline of the state also makes it easier for drugs to be trafficked into Maine.
Maine Drug Rehab Beats Addiction
While Marijuana is the primary drug being abused in Maine, other drugs and transporting of those drugs is also a problem in Maine. Drugs like cocaine, heroin and prescription painkillers are commonly found in the state as well. While the rest of the United States has seen a significant increase in the abuse, trafficking and manufacturing of methamphetamines, in Maine this is not as common, and not as major of a concern with law enforcement agencies. Because of the problems with marijuana use and distribution in Maine, a number of laws and statutes have been created to help discourage marijuana related drug crimes. Additionally, the state of Maine has increased the penalties for Marijuana related crimes.
As it is with the rest of the nation, Maine has also seen an increase in drug violation crimes relating to prescription painkillers. Painkillers such as Hydrocodone and Oxycodone have a street value and more and more people are abusing them because they are easy to get a hold of. Law enforcement agencies in Maine are upping their efforts to control crimes relating to doctor shopping, prescription forgery and the diversion of prescription medications.
Given Maine’s conservative reputation, bucolic landscape, quaint lighthouses and rustic towns harkening back to early New England settlements, a drug epidemic seems out of synch. But like other U.S. cities, The Pine Tree State isn’t immune from the progressive creep of illicit drug traffic. From gateway drugs like marijuana to an epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse and the growing supply of cheap heroin, the train to addiction hasn’t left this state unscathed.
Maine isn’t alone facing this growing crisis: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, annual sales of prescription painkillers like OxyContin have quadrupled since 1999 and so have the number of fatal poisoning deaths resulting from a readily available supply of cheap heroin that’s currently sweeping the nation.
This statistic is enough to shock anyone: the CDC says that in 2010, so many prescriptions for painkillers were written for people, they totaled enough pills to medicate every adult in the U.S. for an entire month.
To highlight and help bring to resolution the epidemic that’s plagued Maine for decades, universities, municipal governments, organizations and institutions are focusing a great deal on education to help caregivers, addicts and officials worried about the future learn about new anti-addiction medications, techniques and theories. For example, The New England School of Addiction and Prevention Studies Program welcomes Maine alcohol and drug abuse agencies, organizations and even grass roots groups to its June 2014 symposium (firstname.lastname@example.org), offering partial scholarships to attendees wishing to update their understanding of the area’s unique drug abuse issues.
While a recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report puts Maine in a statistical tie for “general” misuse of drugs, that does not mean the state hasn’t experienced its own unique crisis management problems related to the abuse of everything from prescribed pharmaceuticals to street drugs.
Maine relies upon federal agencies like the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to undertake comparative studies that coordinate with local efforts, giving state government and agencies a way to assess Maine standings as related to other states.
Of late, SAMHSA has declared Maine within the top fifth of states for marijuana use among diverse age groups, but for some time, OxyContin and other prescription painkillers have prompted even more headlines than marijuana. Now, the recent influx of cheap heroin corresponds to a drop in painkiller availability. Given this fluid situation, keeping tabs on trending is critical to the state’s ongoing battle for dominance in the battle of drugs.
The OxyContin Menace
If you live in Maine, you’re likely heartsick over headlines documenting the rise in addiction, though the drug du jour appears to vacillate. According to a 2011 study reported by Bangor Daily News Health Editor Meg Haskell, the state had become an epicenter of painkiller abuse that year, a dubious honor that’s based on the number of Mainers seeking detox and program help after becoming dependent upon the popular and readily available painkiller, OxyContin.
Does that mean that the state hasn’t been touched by other controlled substances? Hardly. While the national rate of Americans treated for addiction hovers around 45 people per 100,000 residents, in Maine, that number was 386 per 100,000 residents–a huge number in light of the size of the state and when compared to states like New York and California, considered epicenters of drug sales and use.
As early as the year 2000, Washington County officials had already identified OxyContin as a serious public health threat portending a larger epidemic of over-the-counter painkillers, but the ingenuity of prescription painkiller pushers, plus a population of addicts looking for the latest fix, made the job of tracking distribution and use a nightmare that was then compounded by budget cuts within state and community agencies dedicated to fighting Maine’s war on drugs.
Is Guy Cousins, an official with the Maine Office of Substance Abuse, shocked by these numbers? Not much. He claims he has seen it coming ever since OxyContin received FDA approval for dispensary sales and it arrived on the illicit drug scene a little over a decade ago. Like other states, Maine set up a database to track every painkiller prescription written by a physician in the state by 2004, yet the OxyContin addiction problem continued to escalate.
Of course it takes a distribution stream to feed a consumer base and while Maine has done an excellent job of educating doctors about the ramifications of over-prescribing synthetic opiates like OxyContin, only 35-percent of all professionals licensed to prescribe Oxy and other branded painkillers and generics are active participants in the strictly voluntary movement to track sources. Think about it. Around 6,500 Mainers are licensed to prescribe painkillers and 65-percent don’t choose to participate in this much-needed tracking program.
Further, we live in a world of people insisting on quick fixes for medical problems because time, money, stress and life’s pressures do not encourage even practical Maine natives to take steps to alleviate pain using methods that don’t include pharmaceuticals. A quick fix is preferred by many Mainers from all walks of life. In response, pharma industries are fast-tracking their painkiller product introductions.
A Distribution Nightmare
Ask a doctor or public health official to explain how, in a little over a decade, a drug like OxyContin has become one of the most popular drugs of choice for people seeking relief from physical and mental ups and downs and you might not learn about the distribution problem that exacerbates the problem.
First, the aforementioned statistical effort put forth by the state of Maine to track doctor involvement in the area of reporting of painkiller prescriptions is often hampered by physicians already burdened with paperwork and this is just one more task requiring attention that takes them away from their patients.
Next, prescription trading has become something of a hobby among those addicted to OxyContin, so whether wily Maine addicts steal prescription pads, encourage people to pass along leftovers from post-surgery procedures, cull the pills from medicine cabinets or take advantage of black market medicines flowing into the pipelines of even the smallest towns in Maine, it’s almost impossible to identify every conduit.
Drug dealers have become sophisticated. Like skilled marketers, they know what the market will bear so adroitly, they can even tell you whether there’s a greater call for marijuana in Bangor than in Portland. As a result, trafficking becomes a fluid situation since the network is capable of diverting a larger quantity of pills, heroin or marijuana to communities where demand is highest.
Mindset is another contemporary dynamic for the growth, popularity and distribution of recreational drugs: in the minds of some, anything prescribed by a doctor is seen as legitimate so there’s a disconnect when a person compares a prescription for a synthetic opiate like OxyContin to the heroin plucked from a Maine back alley dealer under cover of darkness.
The New/Old Kid in Town
Maine’s collective OxyContin appetite among addicts is serious and has the potential to pick up steam again, but for the moment, a deadlier drug of preference has become the leading issue throughout Maine: the arrival of heroin that’s so cheap, even addicts without much money can get their hands on this potentially lethal killer.
Price increases on illicit prescription painkillers also ushered in the transition to heroin: with new sanctions, laws and oversight concentrated on the OxyContin epidemic, pushers sought to fill the void left by pain killers that are no longer readily availability.
In 2012, staff writers for Portland’s Press Herald ran a story featuring a dramatic headline describing an increase in fatal overdoses from cheap heroin occurring between 2011 and 2012. Writers Eric Russell and David Hench revealed the horrific truth: deaths from heroin quadrupled during that 12 month period and the figure isn’t exaggerated because it came from the city’s chief medical examiner where the story is told in dead bodies resulting from overdoses.
Citing the dwindling supplies of OxyContin that leave addicts without what had become their favorite high, Attorney General Janet Mills decided to go public with her concerns about the rise in availability of heroin. She even related the shift in the loss of health care coverage by Maine residents because the methadone and other trending drugs administered by federal and municipal agencies were being impacted by budget cuts. On the positive side, this specific crisis gave birth to Portland’s Overdose Prevention Program administered by the Department of Health and Human Services.
Ronni Katz, coordinator of Portland’s substance abuse prevention program, believes the problem will get worse before it gets better, given cuts in mental health services and budget tightening throughout Maine’s funding sources. Her research into why the increase has become so dramatic proves that people in Maine are turning to the streets for relief once they’re dropped from the roles of MaineCare that leaves them without alternatives to detox drugs and facilities once covered by the state’s health plans. Dropping Medicaid numbers add to this growing population.
Bodies and Bucks
One need only consult mortality statistics to know that the decrease in the availability of OxyContin and the increased availability of cheap heroin is a prescription for tragedy. Accidental overdoses from opiates like heroin were barely negligible in Maine’s history, fluctuating between 153 and 179 a year since around 2002.
As the drug abuse numbers continued to escalate throughout Maine, statisticians began to add homicides as a direct result of drug dealing to the rising numbers of overdose deaths in 2012 to present a more accurate picture of damage being done by the illegal drug trade. Data collected at Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Center, for example, confirms the increase in deaths from drug overdoses and reports that the Attorney General’s Office is also collecting these numbers.
Even the New York Times stated that the price of heroin in New England has dropped so low, it’s cheaper than the price of a prescription for a legal opiate. To prove the point, Commander Scott Pelletier, head of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency’s southern bureau, reported that in 2012, a hit of heroin sold for around $10 while a 30 milligram OxyContin tablet bought on the black market ran from $30 to $45. Like a stock market, drug demand drives price.
Maine’s drug death data is being collected by numerous agencies as the war against everything from prescription drugs to heroin rages across the state and there’s not always a coordinated effort to match up the numbers, but those concerned with this topic are coming to rely upon both the University of Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith Center and Attorney General’s Office for the most accurate statistics.
That stated, the best tracking in the world can’t substitute for collecting samples of illicit drugs being sold on the streets of Maine cities because unless officials have a grip on which drugs are best sellers in what area of Maine, there would be no reporting on changes in type, strength and potency of new drugs being introduced by pushers on a regular basis. As a result of this new data collection, Portland law enforcement officials have come up with a new type of alert to let communities know about finding, for example, a flood of heroin being distributed in some areas of the city that are mixed with lethal doses of pain killers like fentanyl.
Can Maine Afford Solutions?
It’s anybody guess how efficiently the State of Maine and her people will completely recover from losses to that state’s economy over time, but one thing that’s not refuted by those fighting the current drug epidemic is this: According to Governor Paul LePage and his advisers, at the end of 2013, drug abuse costs $1,000 per resident—and will continue to cost that much every year the fight to eradicate drugs ends.
Says Lt. Frank Clark of the South Portland Police Department, around 20 percent of all arrests made are drug-related these days, but he believes the figure is under-represented because there’s no money in budgets to look closer into each case that may have roots in the Maine drug scene. For example, assuming that a Maine resident is arrested for a robbery, it’s almost impossible to learn whether or not drug addiction prompted the crime, though some are obvious: According to Governor LePage, Maine recorded relatively few drug store robberies, but by 2010, there was a record 56.
With just 46 Maine drug official agents operating throughout the state, enforcing drug trafficking can be impossible without leaving behind exhausted personnel and cracks in the system. MDEA’s federal funding for fighting drug abuse has already been cut by 60-percent in recent years. Roy McKinney, MDEA director, notes that Maine received around $3 million dollars to fight the drug war annually until the last few years and while the number of addicts and crimes have dramatically increased, the agency’s budget has been slashed to only $1 million per year.
As the state of Maine continues to fight overall revenue issues, the state legislature has taken draconian measures by slicing $350,000 from the MDEA’s 2014-2015 budget. Beleaguered state drug enforcement agencies have no way to fill that void. Talk is cheap; actions speak loudly. Lewiston Representative Peggy Rotundo, House chair of the Appropriations Committee, believes the government will step in to remedy the shortfall, but according to her predictions, it will be at the last moment.
Hope for Maine’s Future
Budget cuts. Streamlined drug enforcement agent rosters. Cheap heroin. Myriad social and living conditions that can drive the most vulnerable Maine citizens to drugs when they have run out of options and hope. Combine these symptoms and only the most optimistic Mainers are willing to look to the future with confidence, because compounding this already-critical situation is a growing increase in drug addicted babies being born to moms. Governor LePage says that seven percent of all Maine babies are born to drug-addicted mothers. He counted 927 such births in 2013 alone.
Citing studies being conducted to find solutions, LePage was only able to pull numbers from a 2009 study that the estimated cost to care for every drug-addicted baby comes to $53,000. There has been no money allocated for an updated study. Nevertheless, calling for an increased effort to get drug dealers off the street, LePage asked legislators for four special drug prosecutors and additional judges in Portland, Bangor, Presque Isle and Lewiston, where drug use is most severe.
The federal government is listening and has expressed interest in helping Maine maintain its current position as having the 14th lowest drug overdose mortality numbers (or less) in the U.S. A Prescription Drug Abuse report issued in October 2013 attests to the voracity of Maine’s seriousness of purpose: the state has implemented five of ten “natural indicators” of promising strategies to help bring to an end the state’s drug war: An active prescription drug monitoring program, a strong doctor shopping law, stringent physical exam requirements associated dispensing painkiller prescriptions, ID requirements with teeth and a lock-in program under Maine’s Medicaid plan that requires suspected addicts to visit a single doctor and retailer.
For everyone from the addicted to their families and from Maine governmental officials to the social workers in the trenches, hope can be elusive, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to go away any time soon. Maine is nothing if not adroit at conforming to new challenges as the war on drugs continues to ebb and flow. But if any state can persist in making changes, this resolute state can and will. It’s in the fabric of Maine residents and such a force of nature can be unstoppable.
Maine Drug Rehab Programs Offer Hope
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