BANGOR, Maine — Police Chief Mark Hathaway told Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce members that he knows many of the people committing crimes in the city are using and abusing drugs, but he wanted data to back up his theory.
Three months ago, his officers started asking people they arrested three questions — are you a drug user, where do you live and are you employed?
“In the first three months, 79 percent have said they use drugs,” Hathaway told those who attended the chamber’s early bird breakfast Wednesday at the Hilton Garden Inn.
Hathaway, Brewer Police Chief Perry Antone and Penobscot County Sheriff Glenn Ross spoke about how drug use is driving crime in the region, and about the importance of early education and drug treatment programs.
“It amounts to: Virtually everything the three of us do is a result of drugs,” Hathaway said.
The data collected so far by Bangor police also shows that 49 percent of those arrested over the last three months live in Bangor and 39 percent are employed, the chief said.
The street drugs of today — diverted prescription pills, heroin, bath salts, methamphetamine — cause “a higher level of addiction,” Antone said. “When you have a higher level of addiction, you have a higher level of desperation.”
Many of those arrested in the 53 communities covered by the sheriff’s department and others who end up at Penobscot County Jail are drug users or have prescription drugs prescribed to them for drug treatment or mental illness, said Ross.
“They’re in such bad shape,” the sheriff said of some local addicts.
He also said, “There are so many good people.”
News about Maine’s drug addiction problem has spread, attracting drug dealers from miles away hoping to make a quick buck, according to the law enforcement officials.
“Today they’re coming in from out of state and they’re bringing in drugs from out of state,” Ross said. “The perception to me is that things are worse.”
Hathaway said a treatment center like Bangor, which has three methadone clinics, also attracts users and dealers. He said Bangor is “doing its share” to treat addicts.
Hardcore drug addicts typically don’t work, so they “steal or deal” to feed their addiction, said Ross, who advocated with Hathaway and Antone for more treatment facilities in other areas of the state.
“If a person doesn’t have work, they are not going to be successful,” Ross said. “If they have to travel from Patten to Bangor for treatment, they are not going to have work.”
Ross also said addicts would benefit from using Vivitrol, a once-a-month shot that blocks opioid receptors in the brain. He advocated for other newer drug treatment technologies, and investing in education and treatment programs.
Perry said a crisis center needs to be established somewhere in the region for drug and alcohol addicts.
Property crimes in Bangor are decreasing but violent crimes are on the rise, said Hathaway, who attributed much of the increase to better reporting by victims, especially sexual violence victims who no longer are afraid of coming forward.
In addition to the new drug use survey data Bangor police officers are collecting, department leaders also are creating a Business Police Academy to educate business owners about ways to protect themselves and be proactive about crime prevention. Hathaway hopes to have the academy program in operation this summer.
All three said a three-prong approach is needed to address drug addiction — enforcement, education and treatment — throwing money only at enforcement, as the governor has done in his “War on drugs” plan, only addresses one of the issues.
“I don’t agree with that approach,” said Ross, who also mentioned he is a Republican.