November 16, 2001

NOVEMBER 16, 2001

CONTACT: James M. Cameron, Assistant Attorney General - Drug Task Force Coordinator

Attorney General Steven Rowe is meeting today in Washington, D.C. with the Attorneys General from Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, and other states, as a participant in a Prescription Drug Abuse Task Force organized the National Association of Attorneys General. The Task Force has been working throughout the year in following areas:

  • Developing new laws, such as the bills submitted by Attorney General Rowe and passed by the current legislature in June 2001, to combat the illegal diversion and abuse of prescription drugs.

  • Studying ways to use existing prescription data to identify sources of illegal drug diversion.

  • Preventing the use of the Internet to obtain fraudulent prescriptions and illegally diverted drugs.

  • Working with the medical profession to develop education programs for health care providers to educate them about avoiding fraud by patients seeking drugs, and about safe methods of treating pain.

  • Working with the pharmaceutical industry to encourage the development of new formulations of pain medication that will be less attractive to drug abusers, and studying ways to speed up the FDA new drug approval process for these new, safer pain medications.

  • Develop educational prevention programs for high school students and their parents to teach them about the dangers of prescription drug abuse.

Attorney General Steven Rowe also announced statistics today on the number of drug cases prosecuted by the Office of Attorney General Drug Task Force Attorneys throughout the state during the period from July 1, 2000 through June 30, 2001. The data includes statistics on the number of cases prosecuted and type of drug involved, by county and statewide. (See attached table and graph. Call James Cameron to get email versions.) Although the data is not a complete picture of drug activity in Maine, some interesting trends can be noted.

Statewide, the number of powder cocaine, "crack" cocaine, and marijuana cases completed were down over the previous twelve-month period. For the first time since the AG's Office began keeping statistics, cocaine cases made up less than a quarter of total cases. These decreases were offset by sharp increases in the number of cases involving the illegal use and sale of prescription narcotic drugs and heroin. Heroin cases were up over 60% from the previous 12-month period. The fastest growing drug category by far was prescription narcotics, with the number of cases doubling over the past two years. Together, heroin and prescription narcotic cases made up over 37% of cases prosecuted, reflecting a trend towards opiate abuse that has been on the rise in Maine and across the nation during the past several years.

Regional trends can be noted as well. The number of heroin and prescription narcotic cases combined in Cumberland County more than doubled in the most recent twelve-month period, compared to the previous twelve-month period. Also in Cumberland County, there was a decline in the number of crack cocaine cases, the more dangerous smokable form of the drug, and an increase in the number of powder cocaine cases, reversing a trend in recent years. This decline in the number of crack cocaine cases can also be seen in Androscoggin County, continuing a trend begun several years ago.

While prescription narcotic cases increased in virtually all parts of the state, a particularly dramatic rise occurred in Washington County, where the number of prescription drug cases jumped 280% over the year, from 10 cases in Fiscal Year (FY) 1999-2000, to 28 cases in FY 2000-2001; and in Cumberland County, where prescription cases jumped 350% from 8 cases in FY 1999-2000 to 28 cases in FY 2000-2001. Indeed, overall, Washington County had as many prescription drug cases closed as all of Cumberland County.

The prosecution data reflects some significant demographic trends as well. Certain drugs tend to be associated with different age groups. As was the case in the previous year, persons under 30 years of age tend to be involved with hallucinogenic drugs such as "ecstasy" (MDMA) (average age 24), LSD (average age 22- the youngest group for any drug), and psilocybin mushrooms (average age 26). Persons charged with offenses involving marijuana (average age 37-the oldest group for any drug), heroin (average age 34), illegally diverted prescription pills (average age 34), powder cocaine (average age 33), and crack cocaine (average age 32), tend to be older.

In response to the trend towards the use of prescription drugs, the Office of Attorney General worked with the Legislature to develop a package of legislation that increased the penalties for major traffickers in pills, prevented smuggling, and provided safeguards that will help prevent diversion of prescription drugs by making it harder for criminals to defraud doctors and pharmacies. The Office of Attorney General also developed legislation that increases the penalties for trafficking in hallucinogens such as "ecstasy" (MDMA) and other drugs associated with "raves." These laws took effect September 21, 2001.

This prosecution data reflects criminal cases that have been brought to court and completed in the reporting periods. Since criminal cases take some months to work their way through the criminal justice system, the trends that are suggested tend to reflect activity in the recent past, rather than current activity. The number of cases brought in any given period is influenced both by drug activity and available law enforcement resources.

Attorney General Rowe stated: "The cost of drug abuse and addiction in Maine-in both human and economic terms-is too great for any of us to ignore. We are all adversely affected by the crime, spoiled health, lost productivity, wasted family finances, ruined relationships, and wasted dreams caused by drugs. It is a problem we all must face together."

Assistant Attorney General and Drug Prosecution Coordinator James M. Cameron stated: "Opiate abuse can occur in any family, and frequently the culprit can be found right in the medicine cabinet. Patients should dispose of unused and unneeded narcotic painkillers. Painkillers can be a godsend for patients, but must be respected as powerful substances that can result in painful addiction."