Pubdate: Wed, 11 Apr 2001
Source: Bangor Daily News (ME)
Copyright: 2001 Bangor Daily News Inc.
Author: Emmet Meara


AUGUSTA - The fastest growing drug problem in Maine is neither heroin nor 
cocaine, but the abuse of prescription drugs and "club drugs" like Ecstasy, 
law enforcement officials told legislators on Tuesday. Prescription drugs 
that are smuggled in from Canada have become a serious crime and health 
problem along the border in areas such as Washington and Aroostook 
counties, officials said.

The Attorney General's Office and the Drug Enforcement Agency asked for 
legislators' support for bills to increase penalties for smuggling or 
illegal possession of prescription drugs and for sale or possession of 
illegal club drugs.

Users like to say that club drugs, which include MDMA (Ecstasy), and 
similar chemicals are safe, but they are "as dangerous as heroin," 
according to Attorney General G. Steven Rowe. "These drugs and the crimes 
people will commit to get them represent a serious threat to Maine families 
and communities. These drugs are ruining - and sometimes ending - lives," 
Rowe said.

Former drug prosecutor Rep. William Schneider, R-Durham, who sponsored the 
bill to increase penalties for the possession of designer drugs said, "This 
is not kid stuff. People get brain damage. They suffer tragic sexual 
assault. They die. It has happened here in Maine, but it must stop." The 
number of Ecstasy pills seized in Maine exploded from 32 in 2000 to 4,363 
last year, Schneider said.

The use of Ecstasy and similar drugs has ballooned in the past 18 months 
and caused two fatal overdoses, according to Assistant Attorney General 
James M. Cameron. The drugs are popular at organized "raves," or all-night 
parties of 15-24 year olds. Concentrated enforcement in Portland has forced 
the raves to Lewiston where police made a recent seizure of 2,000 tablets 
worth an estimated $50,000, Cameron said.

Along with the abuse of illegal drugs, law enforcement officials are 
targeting a similar explosion of smuggling and of abusing legal 
prescription drugs, especially in northern Maine.

The illegal use of prescription drugs is out of control, said Rep. Edward 
Povich, D-Ellsworth, the co-chairman of the Criminal Justice Committee. 
"These drugs are so addictive that users resort to almost anything to get 
them," Povich said. In one recent Clifton incident, a drug user broke into 
a house looking for drugs, then burned it down when he failed to find any. 
Luckily the elderly homeowner was away at the time, Povich said.

The illegal use of prescription drugs is most prevalent in municipalities 
that border Canada, officials said.

"Washington County has an extremely high rate of prosecutions for 
prescription drug related crimes. That tells you we are treating the 
problem seriously, but it also tells you about the enormous scope of the 
problem," said Michael Povich, the district attorney for Hancock and 
Washington counties and the brother of the committee chairman. Aroostook 
County District Attorney Neale Adams also reported a common thread of 
prescription drug abuse in the county court docket.

The drug problem in the Calais area is a catastrophe and area high school 
students consider smuggling drugs across the Canadian border to be a game, 
said Rep. Kevin L. Shorey, R-Calais. The prescription drugs cause 
devastation in Washington County, he said.

Houlton area DEA agent Darrell Crandall, who also was present to endorse 
stiffer penalties, said there is an epidemic of smuggling of prescription 
drugs from Canada into Aroostook County. Many cases are not even prosecuted 
under current weak laws, he said.

While heroin investigations increased by 40 percent in 2000 over the 
previous year, prescription drug abuse cases skyrocketed by 95 percent, 
according to DEA Director Roy McKinney, who asked the committee for better 
tools to control the problem. The effort to control the smuggling and abuse 
of prescription drugs was applauded by the Maine Chiefs of Police, Maine 
Medical Association, and the Maine Osteopaths Association.

Bills before the committee Tuesday were:

LD 1725 which stiffens penalties for smuggling drugs across the U.S. or 
state border.

LD 1727 to control the abuse of "club drugs."

LD 1728 to increase penalties for the illegal diversion and abuse of 
prescription drugs.

The lawmakers will conduct work sessions on the measures April 24.
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