December 15, 2018
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Drug chief: Today’s traffickers more savvy, dangerous

Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
Linda Coan O'Kresik | BDN
This 2014 file photo shows Peter Arno, MDEA division II commander, who stepped down from his position Friday. He says today’s drug traffickers are the worst Maine has ever confronted,

Today’s drug traffickers are the worst Maine has ever confronted, according to the top cop in the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency’s northern region.

“The types of drug trafficking organizations we’re dealing with now are certainly more savvy, more streetwise, more dangerous than anything we’ve seen in the past,” said Peter Arno, who stepped down Friday. “Whoever is my follow-on and the people that remain here need to constantly evolve and find chinks into the armor of these organizations and better ways to infiltrate them.”

Arno, 52, spent the majority of his 30-year career in law enforcement fighting drug trafficking.

“The biggest regret that I have [is] …not being able to accurately forecast what this [crisis] would be,” he said. “Are we holding the line on drugs coming into the state? I don’t know.”

Arno’s as-yet-unnamed successor will inherit the job of leading the agency’s northern fight against opioid trafficking, mainly heroin and fentanyl. Opioid addiction killed a record 185 Mainers in the first half of 2017. Figures for the second half the year are not yet available.

Since 2013, Arno had overseen nearly 30 people in the agency’s offices in Augusta, Bangor, Ellsworth and Houlton. Arno spent 25 years with the Bangor Police Department, serving a decade as deputy chief and less than a year as interim chief. For much of that time, he was on loan to MDEA.

Arno said that in 1990, his drug investigations mostly focused on powder cocaine and marijuana. By the early part of this decade, his attention shifted to opioids in the form of prescription painkillers.

Soon, heroin — a deadly, cheaper opiate alternative to pills — was on the rise.

Arno said that he and then-federal prosecutor Jay McCloskey tried to educate the public about the threat. Yet even he didn’t realize how explosively heroin would hit Maine.

“Honestly, looking back 16 years, I don’t know that I could have predicted…the mess we’re in now,” he said.

Fueled by heroin and fentanyl, a more potent, synthetic version of the drug, opioid overdoses in Maine claimed an average of one life a day last year.

Looking back, Arno said, “I wish that as a community and a state we had paid attention to what each other had said a little bit more. [Early on] was a time to create a firebreak. And, I think, as a state, we failed that.”

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