Law enforcement officials say Maine has become an increasingly lucrative market for drug traffickers.
Over the last decade, police in many communities have seen an influx of dealers from out-of-state.
It’s a simple case of supply and demand.
Officials say drug dealers with ties to street gangs based in major cities are bringing large quantities of drugs such as crack cocaine, prescription pain killers, and heroin to Maine.
Now police in communities across the state are working alongside the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency to disrupt the supply.
“These street gangs are criminal enterprises. Their sole existence is to make money,” said Lt. Chris Martin of the Brewer Police Dept.
Exploiting an existing addiction problem and making it worse.
“Drugs are everywhere. Drugs are the biggest problem we face, hands down. Second place isn’t even close,” said Bangor City Councilor Joe Perry.
With a high demand for heroin and other opiates, law enforcement officials say out-of-state drug gangs have decided to eliminate the middle man and send membership to Maine.
“These problems have existed in the bigger cities for a very long time but not necessarily have existed here in our backyards,” said Lt. Martin.
“How do we combat this? It’s not like when we had locals running to the city to come back,” said Brad Johnston, Deputy Chief of the Bangor Police Department.
Johnston says traffickers tied to out-of-state criminal organizations started coming to the Queen City about 15 years ago.
“We have seen a little more organization as far as drug dealing than what we’ve been used to in the years past,” said Johnston.
In recent years, the department has been working to dismantle a drug and gun running operation between Bangor and New Haven, Connecticut.
“When we realized that we had gang members coming from New Haven to Bangor to sell drugs, we weren’t used to that,” said Johnston.
Police say gang affiliates are coming to Maine to sell drugs, often times in exchange for guns that are later used in out-of-state crimes.
“What typically happens is they will come here, they will meet local people and find somebody that is willing to go to a pawn shop or a gun store to purchase a firearm for them in that other individual’s name,” said Johnston.
Police from New Haven travelled to Bangor in 2014 to train local officers in how to identify and combat gang activity. The departments routinely share information and the partnership has led to a number of arrests but -.
“There will be an individual that will come up and sell drugs. When that individual gets arrested, somebody else comes up to take his place,” said Johnston.
“They’ll just have someone here to replace them the next day,” said Perry.
Recently elected Bangor City Councilor Joe Perry says he was shocked to learn of the region’s challenge with out of state dealers during a briefing with city department heads in November.
“I don’t know how we get out of it but it’s not going to be easy, it’s not going to be cheap, and it’s not going to be soon,” said Perry.
According to the MDEA, in 2014, 16 percent of drug trafficking arrests in Maine were of nonresidents.
Police say traffickers can make more than twice as much selling opiates in Maine as they would in an inner city.
“There is money to be made and because there’s a demand. If we can curtail the demand, we can start taking care of these other things,” said Lt. Martin.
Lieutenant Chris Martin is a 20 year veteran of the Brewer Police Department. In the last decade, his department has come in contact with suspected dealers tied to major known criminal enterprises.
He’s hopeful however that through increased access to education, addiction treatment and recovery, and an investment in law enforcement, drug dealers can be deterred from peddling their product in Maine.
“We are at a point right now where we could disrupt and dismantle their activities by virtue of being more aware of it, everyone taking a proactive stance on these things and ultimately reducing our demand.”
Tuesday on TV5, Waterville’s Police Chief tells us what he believes is drawing drug traffickers to Central Maine.
We’ll also hear from a New York man serving a 10-year prison sentence for trafficking who says he was wrongfully convicted.