“How was that stuff I sold you?” read the text message from a heroin dealer to an addict. “Good, do you have some more?” was the reply. A meeting was arranged and the drug dealer was arrested. The “buyer” was not an addict, but an agent of the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency.

The cellphone belonged to a person who had just died from a heroin overdose. The dealer’s text message came in just as officers found the addict’s body.

This is what the front lines of the war on heroin looks like. Unfortunately, the good guys are outnumbered and the dealers are more organized than ever.

That’s why Gov. Paul LePage has asked the Legislature to give him the funding to hire 10 more MDEA agents. The agency’s complement of 39 pales in comparison to its 1990s level staff of 68 to curb the cocaine problem, but today’s heroin and opiate crisis is the worst Maine has ever seen.

We cannot combat this scourge with treatment alone. There has to be a comprehensive approach that includes enhanced law enforcement resources as well as treatment and prevention efforts.

State spending on addiction treatment services has increased by nearly 50 percent since 2008, and total state and federal spending reached $76 million in 2014. Providers tell us there is no wait for detox beds and a seven- to nine-day wait for outpatient treatment.

A new pain management program by Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services has cut painkiller prescriptions to Medicaid recipients in half. Participation in the prescription monitoring program is higher than ever, preventing the practice of “doctor-shopping” for pills. This is critically important because 75 percent of heroin users start with prescription painkillers.

DHHS is also implementing a pilot project for the use of Vivitrol – an alternative to methadone and Suboxone that’s designed to beat addiction.

However, the state spends twice as much money just on transportation for addicts to and from methadone clinics than it does on the entire MDEA. At a mere $3 million, our effort to get drug dealers off the streets is severely underfunded. Maine law enforcement officers are fighting with one hand behind their back against an increasingly organized, sophisticated and ruthless drug gangs from New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut.

Lab analysis of confiscated heroin samples show the heroin being sold in Presque Isle is just as strong as that sold in Portland – and doses laced with deadly fentanyl additives are increasingly prevalent throughout the state.

In the past, heroin used to come into Portland and make its way to more rural areas, being cut in purity as it made its way down the dealer network. Now out-of-state drug gangs are systematically targeting small Maine towns one at a time in an effort to get local people hooked on high-purity heroin. It’s nothing less than an organized conquest of our state. It has to be stopped.

Drug dealers like “Smooth” and “Jamaican Bob” need to see their friends get caught more often. Their cost of doing business in Maine must significantly increase if they are to be dissuaded from selling their poison here. Little known to the public is that MDEA agents must clean up the toxic meth labs that are being busted in record numbers this year – 50 so far. This pulls the agents off the streets for days at a time and halts their efforts to hunt down and arrest drug dealers.

With 10 more agents, MDEA can conduct more sting operations and gather more intelligence on the ground. These jobs require agents to go undercover, work long hours on weekends, holidays and often through the night. They are pulled from their families, and the stress and dangers of the job would be unbearable for most people.

These agents need more backup. They need our support, and they need a commitment from the Legislature to fund 10 more positions. It can take up to six months to find, hire and train experienced drug agents. We need to get the process moving so we can get them on the streets as soon as possible. Their goal is not to put addicts in jail, but to put enough heat on the dealer network to save lives and reverse the tide of heroin addiction in Maine. We can’t let the out-of-state drug dealers win. Please contact your state lawmakers and urge them to fund positions for 10 new MDEA agents.