The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency is one of six state-level drug-fighting agencies nationally receiving grants from the COPS Anti-Heroin Task Force.

The Community Oriented Policing Services grant of $389,000 is intended to help Maine law enforcement efforts that target drug trafficking by seizing heroin and prescription opiates and arresting dealers.

“Our project narrative looked at the issue of identifying, investigating and dismantling criminal drug trafficking groups – target those who are bringing in the most volume,” MDEA Director Roy McKinney said.

The money will be used to pay for overtime and for new equipment, such as a $20,000 hand-held narcotics identification device. The devices mean drug agents don’t have to send samples to the state lab to confirm the presence of certain drugs or risk exposing themselves to powerful drugs like fentanyl by doing a chemical field test, he said.

The MDEA did not seek funds for additional agents – a priority of the LePage administration – because the grant guidelines required identifying how the new personnel would be paid for once the two-year grant expired. McKinney said that is problematic for an agency like MDEA, which relies on officers from other departments to work on the task force. If the grant money was used to replace those officers in the local departments from which they come, those departments would have to commit to funding the positions in the future.

Vermont plans to hire five new state troopers to augment its efforts to battle the heroin problem in that state but apparently has outlined how it plans to keep them once the federal funds dry up.

In describing the grant program, the federal task force cited the devastating impact of heroin on public health and safety. It referenced 2011 figures showing 4,400 people died nationally from heroin overdoses.

The number of Mainers seeking treatment for opiate addiction more than tripled between 2010 and 2014, rising from 1,115 individuals to 3,463 last year, according to statistics from the Maine Office of Substance Abuse. Meanwhile, heroin overdose deaths rose from seven in 2009 to 57 in 2014. Maine had 100 heroin or fentanyl overdose deaths in 2014, and 63 through June 30 of this year.

The money is not to be used for prosecution or for treatment, but was awarded to states with high treatment admissions for heroin and other opiates.

Other states receiving awards include Vermont, with $1.4 million, and similar-sized grants in Wisconsin and Michigan. Tennessee’s anti-drug effort received $900,000 and New Jersey’s $103,000.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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