This photo provided by the U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah and introduced as evidence in a 2019 trial shows fentanyl-laced fake oxycodone pills collected during an investigation. Credit: U.S. Attorneys Office for Utah via AP

The Maine State Police officers who patrol the southern half of the Maine Turnpike haven’t found any heroin during traffic stops this summer — a sign that fentanyl, a more potent and lethal opioid, has taken heroin’s place in driving Maine’s drug epidemic, the agency said.

Between June 21 and September 21, the troopers who work the turnpike from the New Hampshire border to Augusta seized 4.8 kilograms, or more than 10 ½ pounds, of illegal drugs during traffic stops, said spokeswoman Katy England.

But, she said, none of those drugs were heroin, the deadly street drug that helped accelerate the opioid crisis in Maine into an epidemic that still kills about one person here a day.

Instead, most of what officers found, or nearly 3,860 grams of the total haul, was fentanyl — the synthetic opioid that is 100 times more potent than heroin, posing a greater risk of overdose to users addicted to opioid drugs. Since 2017, its presence in Maine has soared because it’s cheaper to make than heroin, meaning traffickers can sell it for similar prices while yielding greater profits even as the trend fuels the state’s death toll.

The recent seizures along Maine’s southern highway are only a portion of the drugs police have intercepted in the state, but it shows how fentanyl is now dominating the street markets for heroin, England said.

“[Fentanyl] unfortunately has taken the place of heroin in our beloved state,” she wrote in a press release. England could not immediately provide figures for how much heroin and fentanyl the same troopers seized last summer during the same time period.

In addition to fentanyl, officers seized 700 grams of methamphetamine, more than 100 grams of cocaine hydrochloride, nearly 150 grams of cocaine base, also known as crack, and 491 diverted prescription fentanyl tablets. The total street value was estimated to be more than $720,000.

Callie Ferguson

Callie Ferguson

Callie Ferguson is an investigative reporter for the Bangor Daily News. She writes about criminal justice, police and housing.