As drug investigators attempt to quell a recent surge of heroin into many parts of Maine, Brunswick police say a near-fatal heroin overdose in July was just the most public incident in “a big drug underground” that most of the community simply isn’t aware.
Over the last three years, police have noted nine suspected drug-related deaths, according to Brunswick Police Detective Rich Cutliffe, who works with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency’s Portland office.
“And there could be two to three more,” he said, accounting for variations in record-keeping.
The deaths, which are listed as “suspected” unless and until a toxicology test and medical examiner’s report confirms the cause of death, were likely attributable to an array of drugs, and often multiple substances, according to Cutliffe.
He said Tuesday that he’s concerned about the drug activity in the “small town,” and doesn’t think residents are aware of the severity because it’s not taking place on the street.
“When I’m talking with citizens from town, I get the general sense that they don’t think there’s a lot of drugs in Brunswick,” Cutliffe said. “I disagree. I want people in Brunswick to be aware that just because you don’t see it on the street corners … there is a big drug underground that’s going on in Brunswick.”
The drug of choice in town, he said, continues to be crack cocaine.
“We have a pretty heavy crack problem in Brunswick,” Cutliffe said. “Pharmaceuticals is still No. 1. Number 2 is crack and cocaine, then probably marijuana, and then heroin.”
As drug investigations continue to shut down oxycodone rings — a Brunswick couple with a history of drug convictions was indicted earlier this month for aggravated trafficking in oxycodone, among other crimes — Cutliffe said addicts, including “kids,” now rely on benzodiazepams such as clonazepam (Klonopin) and lorazepam (Ativan) for their high.
“They’re stealing [prescription] pads, getting [pills] from people who have known scrips, pretending they’re doctors and calling them in,” he said. “That’s huge — there’s a lot of that going on.”
To combat the issue, Cutliffe said police are using every tool they have, including, they hope, increasing the number of posted drug-free safe zones.
Currently, 11 areas in town, including schools, playgrounds and athletic fields, are posted as drug-free safe zones.
Soon Deputy Chief Marc Hagan will appeal to the Town Council to have 20 additional areas posted as drug-free safe zones.
When a suspect is arrested and charged with a drug crime, the charge automatically is elevated if it occurred in a drug-free safe zone.
“It helps when it comes time to hold these people accountable and prosecute them,” Cutliffe said of the zones. “Then we have a bigger bargaining chip to make sure they’re held accountable.”