OLD TOWN, Maine — Items with secret compartments that look like everyday products — a stack of poker chips, a lint brush, a highlighter — are what some youth are using to hide their drugs, a team of law enforcement told parents recently at a drug education forum.
“These are the things that parents miss,” Deputy Chief Troy Morton of the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office said to a group gathered at Leonard Middle School, holding a blue highlighter that held a hidden marijuana pipe. “We’re trying to get people to pay attention to things that are not always obvious.”
“Sometimes it’s very difficult to look at the signs and tell if they are abusing substances, but they will not be able to hide all their paraphernalia,” he said later.
“Things to look for [include] little pieces of tinfoil that are burnt — that is a sign,” Trooper Barry Meserve of the Maine State Police told parents. “Straws that are cut. If you have a straw that is that long [indicating about 3 inches with his fingers], they’re snorting something.”
The unofficial list of problem drugs in the Old Town area includes alcohol, diverted prescription pills, marijuana, cocaine, synthetic drugs and heroin. Alcohol and underage drinking plays a major role in what police in the area respond to with the University of Maine so close, Old Town police Sgt. Lee Miller said.
April 29 was UMaine’s Maine Day, a spring festival on campus, and Miller said 17 officers from his department, Orono Police Department and state police kept an eye on the area.
“We had over 30 [underage drinking] violations that we found,” the sergeant said.
Miller said, “We’ve seen people get so drunk, they fall down stairs and die and people think they’re just drunk and bring them back inside and leave them there.”
He was referring to the death of a 24-year-old man in 2009 at a party on Stillwater Avenue.
Something new Meserve said he is seeing in youth is alcohol-infused gummy bears.
“They can actually eat these things in school and you won’t know until you see the effects,” the trooper said.
The trio of officers discussed how most youngsters who try diverted prescription pills get them from their parents’ or grandparents’ medicine cabinets, and that pain pills are an opiate, just like heroin. Most home burglars are looking for two things, pain pills or money to buy them, and the drug-addicted criminals are driving up crimes rates, Morton said.
They talked about the effects of synthetic bath salts on users, and praised efforts in 2011 and 2012 to educate the public about dangers associated with the hallucinogen and zero tolerance policies at UMaine and other area schools.
Morton also talked about the need for drug and alcohol addiction services in the region.
“We suffer in this area because we don’t have any detoxification facilities,” said the deputy chief, who is running for sheriff of Penobscot County. “They end up in the ER [emergency room]. We have some great treatment facilities but it could be a wait of 30 or 40 days.”
An addict in crisis just can’t wait that long, Morton said.
“They end up in serious crisis and end up in the custody of one of these guys,” he said, pointing at Miller and Meserve. “The jail is not the place to treat these folks. We need to stop the problem early and we need to educate.”
When it comes to drug use and children, it’s up to parents to play a proactive role, Meserve said.
“Know where they are going. Check their Facebook page,” the trooper said. “I need a search warrant to go into their room, but you don’t.”
Old Town Police Department has a new anonymous tip line that allows people to send a text message or email directly to the department without using their name. To use the service, text “OTPDTip” to 274637, or go to the Partnership for a Healthy Northern Penobscot website, phnpme.org, to email the message.