This state was not prepared when heroin crept across its borders.
It was not prepared for the subsequent onslaught of opiate addicts who outwitted doctors who themselves had much to learn about the determination and the level of sickness and desperation of their patients.
Since that time in the mid 1990s, law enforcement and treatment providers have been able only to chase the disease, the addicts, the dealers, the crime and the carnage that have resulted.
Tougher laws, more methadone clinics, more awareness and education.
Are we anywhere near getting ahead of that battle?
Are we even close?
Do we have a chance of beating it?
There is work being done for sure. Work has been going on for a decade. Some people are successfully in recovery. Some families have been healed. Some systematic changes have been made. Arrests are happening. Folks are going to prison.
But look around.
We are still chasing the problem. And if I may be so bold as to say, we are not gaining a lot of ground.
For more than a decade, I have been writing about state officials warning us about methamphetamine. The destruction of lives it has caused in communities across the midwest. The highly addictive nature of the drug. The euphoria it gives new users and the absolute physical devastation it leaves in its wake.
The warnings have been plentiful.
Until recently, Maine and the rest of New England appeared to have escaped that particular horror.
Have you noticed, however, the word “meth” and “meth lab” creeping ever so slowly into the headlines of your newspaper?
Eleven meth labs, six of them in Aroostook County, were busted last year. Meth labs have been discovered in South Thomaston and Bath and Houlton. A woman in Smyrna Mills was charged with trafficking in meth and a Fort Fairfield man was sentenced to 40 months in prison for providing a place to store meth pills.
Is it here?
It would appear so.
To a desperate person or a drug addict, meth is a trifecta — it’s cheap, it can be made locally and it triggers the release of an uncommon amount of dopamine, the chemical in the brain that produces pleasure.
The amount of dopamine released during an orgasm pales in comparison to the amount released in just one puff of meth, according to national published studies.
And it lasts for eight to 10 hours.
It’s pretty easy to understand how the susceptible might succumb to that.
The problem, of course, is that continued use, and most everyone continues to use it, results in a need for more, an inability to sleep, weight loss, hair loss and what they call “Meth mouth,” or the rotting and loss of teeth.
That can happen in about six months of use, experts say.
Oh, and the complete loss of sex drive.
Which, I can only imagine, is somewhat moot if your hair and teeth are falling out.
All of that, of course, destroys families and communities, much like we’ve experienced here with our opiate abuse problem.
But while meth appears to be creeping into Maine, our state is much more prepared than it was for other abused drugs.
Maine has monitored its pulse. The state passed a law banning over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine — the chemical found in most sinus medications that can be used to make meth — long before the federal government passed the same law and long before the state was experiencing a meth abuse problem.
Maine developed task forces and meth watch programs, and it spent money on training law enforcement officers. It applied for grants and even when meth was not the utmost drug problem in the state, it continued its focus on prevention and preparedness.
I do believe that perhaps sheer fright, at least major concern, drove this will. Midwest drug agents and state officials were not shy about sharing the horror stories of their own communities, and the national media told those stories well.
Whatever the reason, Maine is better prepared to meet the meth challenge head on than it was the plague of heroin and opiate addiction.
Does it mean there is not a bitter fight ahead?
Not at all. Those stories creeping into your daily paper are of great concern.
Does it mean that our state, unlike so many others, will stay ahead of the methamphetamine game? Nope.
But perhaps it gives us a fighting chance and perhaps it will prove that foresight, not just reactionary policies, will save our state, for once, from another scourge of drug abuse.