Bangor highlighted in national designer drugs webcast

Posted Jan. 26, 2012, at 5:57 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A live, national webcast Thursday that is now available on video worldwide has put the spotlight on Bangor in the ongoing fight against synthetic drug abuse.

Bangor’s struggle with bath salts is highlighted in “Designer Drugs: The New Frontier,” an hourlong webcast produced by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America in cooperation with the National Guard Bureau and the Multijurisdictional Counterdrug Task Force Training Program.

“I’m pleased. I think it’s a real good snapshot of what took place here,” said Chief Deputy Troy Morton of Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office. “It’s good to see that this will be used in other places to get on top of the issue and it also absolutely clarifies that what this community did as a whole to deal with the problem was right on.”

Morton watched the webcast’s premiere from the Bangor City Council chambers Thursday afternoon along with Bangor Health and Community Services Department Director Shawn Yardley and a dozen other viewers, including several civic officials and residents.

“They really did a good job drawing all the pieces together and … reflecting on what happened,” said Yardley. “I was really nervous to see how we would be portrayed because it would have been real easy to say, ‘It’s here because of everything wrong in Bangor.’ We still have our issues, but we’ve done a good job coming together to try to respond to this danger and I think this points that out.”

The webcast began to chronicle Bangor’s experience with bath salts about 15 minutes into the program, when program host Mary Elizabeth Elliott of the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America said, “Well, bath salts have hit one area of the country particularly hard,”

The 7½-minute segment interspersed interviews with seven local public officials — including Morton and Yardley and representing Bangor’s law enforcement, educational, emergency medical and civic agencies — with video footage of local places such as Eastern Maine Medical Center.

“I guess I believe the good is happening all the time, but it took a crisis for us to put it all into operation and show it to the rest of the world,” said Yardley. “For me, the opportunity to get in front of cameras and in people’s homes with pieces like this is a big thing.”

Yardley said the program also accurately highlights how a crisis was dealt with effectively by a massive community effort that involved officials and people from all walks of life.

“I think we already had people here to address this, but this gave us an opportunity to practice,” he said. “I mean, the first time I met Dr. Anthony Ng (Acadia Hospital’s chief medical officer) was here in c ouncil chambers at the public forum with Bangor Police Chief (Ron) Gastia before the Bangor City Council, and we shared a common approach. Now we know each other and that makes a world of difference.”

The program was two-pronged, dealing with synthetic drugs such as bath salts and with synthetic marijuana, nicknamed “spice.” The nature of designer drugs makes drug enforcement difficult because their chemical properties can be constantly and quickly altered to keep them technically legal for sale.

“Just last week I saw a news report where there are documented incidents of people suffering from necrotic fasciitis, which is a flesh-eating disease that they’re getting from some of these newer designer drugs they’ve used,” Yardley said. “I mean, really, this is a horror movie. You don’t have to look very hard to see really, really scary things.”

Elliott and three panelists pointed out that 43 states have set up laws against synthetic marijuana and 33 have created laws banning synthetic drugs such as bath salts.

Bangor’s cooperation with the webcast’s producers four months ago has paid off in more ways than publicity, according to Yardley.

“We now have a relationship with some big national groups because of this, so because I helped coordinate interviews for them, we now have access to their entire media library on any issues we’re working with, like medical marijuana,” he explained.

Despite the upbeat feelings after the webcast viewing, Yardley and Morton both acknowledged the fight is far from over.

“We’re not seeing the big flashes of it because people are now keeping it underground more and we’ve seized a bunch of stuff, but we’re still having large amounts of it come into the area,” said Morton. “It’s still a problem, and we can’t stop now.”

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