Maine and New England reporting surge in heroin use

PORTLAND, Maine — The New York Times reported Friday on the rash of heroin use — and overdoses — in Maine and other areas of New England. Health and public safety officials continue to caution that unusually pure or “bad” heroin is making its way through the region, and warn of the dire consequences including increased crime and a draw on welfare and the public health system.

Law enforcement and public health officials have been warning of the rise in heroin use for months.

“We’re definitely seeing a huge spike,” Matt Cashman, supervisor of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency’s Western District Task Force based in Lewiston, told the Bangor Daily News in May. “It’s getting pretty bad. We in Maine are usually slightly behind the curve of the rest of the country, but we’re really not [with heroin]. Everybody is talking about the increase.”

In May, Portland law enforcement and public health officials issued an alert about heroin use after four overdoses and one suspected overdose fatality over a 24-hour period.

Earlier this week, the Bangor Daily News reported on two overdoses — one that was fatal — in the Belfast area. Police blamed the incidents on a new batch of drugs, possibly heroin or bath salts, making its way through region.

Heroin continues to account for a large percentage — and sometimes nearly all — of the cases drug agents are handling. Earlier this month, two people were arrested — also in Belfast for drug trafficking after police allegedly seized 100 bags of heroin and 36 oxycodone pills. The arrests were only two in a long series of similar incidents throughout the state in just the past few months.

Along with crack cocaine, Portland police Assistant Chief Vern Malloch said in June that heroin use was “growing significantly,” with 13 overdoses and three deaths in the previous 3 months.

And as heroin and other opoid use rises, officials say the impact on others and on society in general will also increase.

In 2012, 779 babies were born “drug affected in Maine, the Bangor Daily News reported earlier this week. That’s nearly five times the total of 165 babies in 2005.

The average cost of treating those infants is $32,016, and is almost always borne by MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

In May, Dr. Mark Publicker, president of the Northern New England Society of Addiction Medicine, told the Bangor Daily News that as heroin use increases and drug users share needles, “I think we can anticipate HIV. We’ve never seen a lot of HIV [in Maine]. And I think we’re about to see significant increases in hepatitis C. And the other thing we’re going to see is an increase in crime,” he added.

That is already happening, Malloch, of Portland, said in June.

“For us, we feel like the biggest driver in the city is drug activity. It drives violent crime as well as property crime.”

BDN reporters Alex Barber, Abby Curtis, Jackie Farwell, Dawn Gagnon, Ryan McLaughlin and Nok-Noi Ricker contributed to this report.

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