Pubdate: Sat, 15 Sep 2001
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2001 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Mal Leary
Bookmarks: (Club Drugs) (Ecstasy) (Raves)


AUGUSTA - Maine has seen a dramatic increase in the use of "club
drugs," such as MDMA, GHB and ketamine. And that increase is joining
prescription drug abuse as a major concern of both law enforcement
officials and the Maine medical community.

"We have seen a tremendous increase in MDMA in Maine," said Roy
McKenney, director of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency. He said there
was also an increase in the use of other so-called club drugs.

Seizures of tablets of MDMA, commonly known as Ecstasy, have
skyrocketed. In fiscal year 2000, only 120 tablets of the drug were
seized. In the year that ended June 30, the Maine Drug Enforcement
Agency is reporting the seizure of 9,681 tablets of the drug.

McKenney said increased drug seizures are a good indicator of the
changing popularity of certain illegal drugs. For example, while use
of drugs such as cocaine has gone up and down over the years,
marijuana remains the illegal drug most used in Maine.

"OxyContin and other prescription drug abuse has gotten tremendous
attention," he said, "but we have a serious problem with club drugs."

McKenney said the problem is not just a law enforcement concern. He
said there needs to be a broader response that includes both education
and prevention as well as treatment opportunities. He said a lot of
cases dealing with MDMA have been with young adults and teen-agers,
with many arrests at concerts and other large gatherings, such as all-
night parties called raves.

"We are also very concerned about this increase," said Kimberly
Johnson, Director of the Office of Substance Abuse. "This is a group
that missed out on a lot of the substance abuse education efforts we
have had."

That, she said, was because there were many programs cut and others
eliminated in the early 1990s. Johnson hopes to partially rectify that
situation with a federal grant the state has applied for that would be
focused on students attending the University of Maine and technical
college systems. She said it would be more difficult to reach the far
larger group of young Mainers not attending school.

"But I think it is important we try to do that," she said. "We have
far too many people that do not realize how dangerous some of these
drugs can be."

And experts agree they can be very dangerous. David Mokler is a
professor of pharmacology at the University of New England medical
school in Biddeford who has studied MDMA and other club drugs.

"If you look back at the history of substance abuse over the last 40
years, these drugs are some of the more dangerous ones," he said. "For
instance, GHB [gamma hydroxybutyrate] is a sedative in small doses,
but can be deadly in larger doses or when mixed with other substances
like alcohol."

Mokler said emergency room visits caused by use of club drugs have
increased across the country over the last two years.

"We have had some visits," said Dr. David Stuchiner, emergency
department director at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, "but
we have not seen the big numbers that have been reported in other
areas of the country."

Stuchiner said it often is difficult to determine exactly which drug
or drugs a person may have used if the person does not tell ER
personnel. He said teens and young adults frequently express the
belief that club drugs are not dangerous, or as dangerous, as other

"We have to do a better job getting the message to these young people
that these drugs can be very dangerous," he said.

Mokler said ketamine, often called the date-rape drug, also is
dangerous and can cause both short-term and long-term health problems.
Its use, as measured by arrests and seizures, is also up in Maine.

McKenney said drug abuse patterns are different across the state. MDEA
operates regional task forces and the detailed reports of those multi-
agency law enforcement groups reflect those differences.

The Aroostook County Sheriff's Office had only dealt with negligible
quantities of MDA or MDMA prior to 2001, wrote Darrell Crandall,
supervisor of the Houlton Task Force which covers Aroostook and
Washington counties. "Marijuana continues to be the most commonly
abused illegal drug."

He said abuse of prescription drugs, particularly OxyContin, is
"public enemy number one" in Washington County, but is also a
significant problem in Aroostook County.

Gerry Baril of the Androscoggin County Sheriff's office is the
supervisor of the Lewiston Task Force that covers Androscoggin,
Franklin and Oxford counties. He said large raves held at the Central
Maine Civic Center in Lewiston sparked a number of arrests for club
drug use, even though marijuana and prescription drug abuse were still
the two largest categories of arrests.

"There were 52 individuals arrested after undercover purchases, and a
total of 79 offenses charged during these five events," he wrote,
"which clearly established raves as the primary outlet for club drugs,
and that raves provided an environment that clearly promoted and
expected the use of these dangerous drugs."

The Bangor Task Force covers Hancock, Penobscot, Piscataquis and
Somerset counties and is supervised by Garry Higgins of the Bangor
Police Department. He said club drugs are "readily" available
throughout the four counties and are most commonly used by teen-agers.
But in addition to club drugs, marijuana and prescription drugs, the
region has seen an increase in heroin arrests.

"There have been numerous arrests of street-level heroin dealers and
arrests of major traffickers-importers of the drug," Higgins wrote.
"Dealers, who are generally addicts themselves, make trips out of
state to purchase the drug at a cost of $5 to $7 for a one-tenth gram
bag. The resale price of a one-tenth [gram] bag is $25 to $35."

The state's two most populous counties, Cumberland and York, each have
their own task force. Both report club drug use increased with several
raves in southern Maine, many illegal, over the last year. But,
marijuana and prescription drug abuse still were ranked as greater
problems by the local task forces.

"It appears to be the common practice of local users to cook their own
crack," wrote Scott Pelletier of the Portland Police Department,
supervisor of the Cumberland County Task Force. "Based on information
and intelligence gathered by agents, crack cocaine is still being used
on a regular basis."

Pelletier also reported an increase in the availability of heroin in
the Portland area. Ken Pike of the Old Orchard Beach Police Department
is the supervisor of the Lyman Task Force, which covers York County,
said the same is true in his area.

"Heroin is a real problem and has been growing worse every year," he

McKenney said another measure of drug abuse in Maine is the seizure of
assets. More than $300,000 in cash was seized last year along with 13
motor vehicles and four ATVs. 
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