At the end of last year, Maine’s departing governor Paul LePage made headlines by blaming the state’s drug trafficking problem on minorities. As the Portland Press Herald reported, LePage stated that “these are guys with the name D-Money, Smoothie, Shifty–these types of guys–they come from Connecticut and New York, they come up here, they sell their heroin, they go back home.” The governor went on to say that “97 percent” of Maine’s drug dealers are minorities— specifically, African Americans and Hispanics.
The governor’s words have, not surprisingly, sparked controversy and have impacted the already raging debate about the racial biases of the justice system. Those critical of the governor say he’s spewing racially charged misinformation. That prompts a question: if those running Maine’s government can’t reference easy-to-find drug sale percentages and statistics, how on earth will they ever be able to manage something as serious as the state’s drug epidemic?
Maine’s Drug Problem
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Maine is among the top ten states with the highest rates of opioid-related overdose deaths.” Between 2012 and 2016, the state witnessed a “fourfold” increase in deaths due to heroin overdose. While opioids like heroin, fentanyl, and various prescription painkillers are causing most of the state’s drug-related deaths, other drugs of abuse like cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription sedatives like Xanax are also a significant problem for Maine.
Moreover, the Portland Press Herald reported that most of the drug deaths in recent years have been due to “two or more drugs” in association with alcohol. And while the state’s large cities like Newport and Bangor are contending with drugs on their streets, the state’s small rural towns are not immune to the growing drug problem that appears firmly rooted in all of New England.
Drug Trafficking in Maine
In recent March headlines, Maine authorities made some noteworthy arrests involving drug traffickers in Newport and Portland. Former Governor LePage would be surprised to learn that those involved in these arrests were white. One drug bust in a Burger King parking lot in Newport resulted in the confiscation of “heroin, digital scales, drug -related paraphernalia, hypodermic needles, illicit drug packaging items, a drug-related document, and controlled pills.” In another, police arrested a South Portland man for trafficking fentanyl.
Understanding drug trafficking patterns in the state is essential if authorities are to successfully combat the problem. According to Maine’s authorities, drugs come into the state from various channels. Traffickers have been able to effectively get drugs into Maine via ocean-going cargo containers, in packages delivered by the US Postal Service and other delivery services, and through public transportation systems— airports, trains, and buses. Drug traffickers have been arrested while driving drugs into the state via its interstate highways and on private boats docking in coastal towns and cities. Gang activity in the cities also contributes to the trafficking problem.
The Trouble with Boston
Boston, one of the nation’s oldest cities and named by Puritan colonists, appears to be at the heart of Maine’s drug trafficking problem according to Maine drug enforcement agents. They report that most of the traffickers caught bringing in heroin, cocaine, and meth are coming from the Boston area. Traffickers smuggle them into the area’s ports and, particularly, through Logan Airport. The National Drug Intelligence Center has called Boston’s heroin problem “alarming.” Most of the heroin confiscated has been traced to Southeast and Southwest Asian production sites, but heroin from South America is also a growing concern.
Once the illicit drugs get past airport surveillance or into the hands of traffickers via mailed packages, they are farmed out into other Massachusetts cities like Lowell and Lawrence and then up to Maine and other New England states where they are in demand.
Race and Drug Trafficking
Rather than succumbing to stereotypes about drug dealers and drug users, Maine’s former governor might have made a closer examination of the state’s drug trafficking problem in association with race. According to the Portland Press Herald, traffickers of Hispanic or African American descent did not even account for 50 percent of those recently arrested for trafficking violations. In a recent Connecticut study reported by the Journal of Drug Issues, drug sales were split evenly between African American and white sellers. The FBI, which does not track such statistics in relation to Hispanics, reported to the Associated Press that “blacks accounted for 14 percent of a total of 1,211 drug sale and manufacturing arrests and 7.4 percent of 5,791 total drug arrests in Maine in 2014, the most recent numbers available.”
By failing to take an accurate accounting of the drug trafficking problem and failing to reflect on the data regarding racial bias and incarceration rates, Maine officials may find that they’ll have a tough time convincing their critics that they can solve the state’s serious drug problem. Janet Mills, Maine’s new governor, has promised supporters that she will strive to provide drug prevention programs, “rein in prescribing practices,” and “establish an opioid hotline.” It seems that other solutions will be needed to successfully combat Maine’s drug traffickers.
There Is Help
Maine is partnering with other states to stem the flow of illicit drugs into its cities and towns. The state recently received a federal grant to help combat the opioid epidemic. Meanwhile, help of a more personal nature is always available. FHE Health offers a wide array of behavioral health services including treatment for substance addiction. FHE Health cannot solve Maine’s drug trafficking problems, but it can help one individual at a time find freedom from substance addiction. Through medical detox programs and evidence-based therapies, FHE Health’s experienced practitioners can help people achieve the long-term recovery that they long for.