AUGUSTA – Authorities say home burglaries have skyrocketed to such a degree that the city averages nearly one a day.

That trend, plus an even bigger increase in motor vehicle thefts, appears to be fueled by an increase in prescription drug abuse, according to city officials.

Mayor William Stokes, who is also chief of the criminal division of the Office of the Maine Attorney General, said property crimes are on the rise statewide.

Stokes blamed the increase on abusers of prescription and other drugs who need money to support their habits.

Police Chief Robert Gregoire said that, while tough economic times may be a factor, “in my opinion, and the opinion of many others, drug abuse has been the most significant issue in crime in Augusta.”

So far this year, Augusta Police have responded to 605 thefts, 399 motor vehicle burglaries and 248 burglaries of homes and businesses.

Home burglaries and motor vehicle burglaries, in particular, have jumped. Last year, city police recorded 212 motor vehicle burglaries.

Gregoire urged people to lock the doors of their homes and vehicles, not leave valuables in vehicles and call police if something doesn’t look right.

“Watch out for your neighbors, and watch out for yourself,” Gregoire said. “If it feels suspicious, it probably is. If you see an unfamiliar vehicle at your neighbor’s, get a plate number, and a direction of travel. Don’t hesitate to call the police.”

He said many home burglaries occur during the day on weekdays, when working homeowners aren’t around. Most motor vehicle burglaries have happened at night.

Gregoire said property crimes usually decrease this time of year, but haven’t so far.

Chip Woodman, supervisor of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency’s Augusta-based South Central District Task Force, covering Kennebec and Somerset counties, said drugs such as hydrocodone and oxycodone are expensive — the average price of a prescription pill sold on the street is about $1 per milligram.

“So a 30-milligram pill is about $30,” Woodman said. “If you’ve got a person using eight, 10 or 12 of those a day, it gets very expensive — especially if the person is unemployed.”

Woodman and Stokes also said there has been a large number of overdose deaths — nearly 170 this year.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

[email protected]