BANGOR, Maine — Bangor police Lt. Thomas Reagan almost feels more at ease dealing with bath salts addicts than being publicly honored for his groundbreaking work against the synthetic drug.
Maybe that’s one of many reasons he’s the first person from Maine to win the Elks Association’s national annual Enrique “Kiki” Camarena Award.
“It’s a special honor because of the man it’s named for. I knew his story even before I found out I had won the honor,” said Reagan, a veteran officer with 24½ years on the job. “But I prefer being way under the radar.”
“I think I’d rather have a root canal,” Reagan joked when asked Saturday about being the center of attention at a public ceremony honoring him before the Bangor City Council at Monday night’s regular meeting at Bangor City Hall. “Seriously, my biggest reward is being able to help people in a variety of ways, and there are a variety of ways to help.”
The award was established by the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks in 2004 to recognize and honor law enforcement officers who have made a significant contribution in the field of drug prevention and who personify Agent Camarena’s belief that one person can make a difference.
Camarena was a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officer who was kidnapped, tortured and killed by a Mexican drug cartel while investigating drug trafficking in 1985.
Reagan was nominated by Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia and the Maine Criminal Justice Academy staff and sponsored by Bangor Elks Lodge 244.
“He is a leader, not only in drug awareness, prevention and enforcement training, but also in his ability to energize and direct his personnel,” said Gastia.
Last year, as Bangor became the epicenter for bath salts incidents in the country, Lt. Reagan developed a training curriculum and traveled all over the state and into Canada to educate law enforcement agencies, medical and educational personnel, and members of the public about the synthetic drugs.
“It’s been a learning curve over the last year,” said Reagan, who earned a Bachelor of Science at Husson University, where he also teaches criminal justice classes. “I’ve done over 70 training programs with teachers, EMS, police, dispatchers, you name it.”
Reagan discusses the dangers of bath salts and instructs groups on ways to best handle users experiencing psychosis, delirium and paranoia caused by the drugs.
The 50-year-old Massachusetts native started his law enforcement career in 1979 when he joined the U.S. Coast Guard and handled maritime law enforcement as well as search and rescue. He joined the Orono Police Department as a patrolman in 1987 and moved to Bangor in 1988. He went from attending the Maine Criminal Justice Academy’s OUI School in 1989 to becoming a certified academy instructor a year later. Since then, he has become drug recognition expert instructor and provided instruction to officers in Maine, Florida, Maryland, Arizona, Missouri and South Carolina.
Reagan became a detective in 1996, was promoted to sergeant in 1998, and became a lieutenant in 2007. He lives in Bangor with wife of 30 years, Christine. They have two daughters, Melissa and Rebecca.
“It’s quite a prestigious honor,” said Andy Constantine, past exalted ruler of Elks Lodge 244. “This is the first time we’ve had a national winner from Bangor or Maine. We are one of 22 lodges in Maine and represent areas including Bangor and surrounding towns like Brewer, Hermon and Hampden.”
Reagan is under no illusions that the bath salts problem — or drug abuse in general — has lessened considerably or that it ever will be completely solved despite recently enacted laws toughening penalties and making it easier to prosecute users and abusers.
“We have to keep in mind that we’re losing more people via prescription drug overdoses than any other drugs,” he said. “And I don’t think bath salts has died down at all, unfortunately.”
That’s not to say the Boston Bruins fan and avid volleyball player will be easing his efforts to combat drug abuse anytime soon.
“My current drive is to get others to recognize signs and symptoms of drugs,” Reagan said. “If we can get the message to teachers and parents and other people who can catch the problem before it gets to us.”