After three people overdosed on heroin in Monmouth last week, the local police chief is seeking the public’s assistance with investigating drug crimes.

Two of last week’s overdoses occurred Friday and a third happened a few days earlier, Chief Kevin Mulherin said. In two of the cases, responders from the Winthrop Ambulance Service were able to revive the victims with Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of opioids. In the third case, responders had to perform CPR on the overdose victim, who is now on life support, Mulherin added.

“Three in a week is definitely out of the ordinary,” said Mulherin, who never wrote anything on Facebook before posting a message on the department’s page Monday morning.

In the social media post, he asked community members to seek help for their friends and family members who use drugs. He also urged residents to inform police of any suspicious behavior they see around town.

It’s a familiar message. In the face of an ongoing opiate epidemic, police departments across the Northeast have been urging citizens to report evidence of drug crimes and seek help for their loves ones’ addictions.

Less familiar was the setting. Monmouth, population 4,100, is a small town surrounded by woods and lakes, the type of place more likely to appear on a tourism brochure than in a don’t-do-drugs ad. It’s 15 miles from both Augusta and Lewiston, the types of urban hubs more traditionally associated with the narcotics trade.

But the opiate epidemic hasn’t been limited to cities, as the three overdoses last week and those before them have made clear.

The Winthrop Ambulance Services responds to emergencies in seven towns in western Kennebec County, including Monmouth. As of early April, it had responded to 60 overdoses in the previous 15 months, using Narcan on 27 occasions, Director John Dovinsky said during a presentation to Winthrop-area businesspeople.

“That’s a lot. That’s a lot,” Dovinsky said at the time. “We were using Narcan just a handful of times seven or eight years ago. All of sudden we’ve got this upswing.”

Mulherin was unwilling to provide many details about the three overdoses that occurred in Monmouth last week.

It was not the only municipality in Maine to see a spike. On Friday and Saturday, six overdoses were reported in the far bigger city of Sanford, population 20,800. Police think fentanyl, a powerful opioid painkiller that’s up to 50 times more powerful than heroin, is a factor in the Sanford overdoses.

But Mulherin didn’t know whether fentanyl was present in the heroin taken by the three people in Monmouth. The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency is helping the Monmouth department investigate the overdoses.

Mulherin said Monmouth, which is on Route 202, can be a gateway for the drugs that are shuttled between Augusta and Lewiston. That’s one of the reasons his department carries out traffic patrols on that section of highway.

But Mulherin conceded that there are also drug dealers who live in Monmouth and Winthrop; hence his plea to residents for help with criminal investigations.

“If you or someone you know has any information on persons using or selling drugs, please contact the Monmouth Police Department,” he wrote on Facebook early this week. “The information provided will be confidential unless you feel strongly enough about this epidemic to be willing to testify against these individuals. If you are willing to supply information regarding the drug problem in Monmouth, be aware that with this information it may only be a piece of the puzzle to establish probable cause to bring a criminal case forward.”

Not everyone agrees with the law enforcement tactic of asking citizens to report suspicious behavior by their friends, family members, acquaintances, neighbors or strangers.

“Police are most effective when they build trust in their community,” said Alison Beyea, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. “Asking neighbors to report their neighbors, that’s not going to build that community.”

Beyea also suggested that the “‘see something, say something’ programs usually result in piles of reports about innocent people, simply because they are perceived as different. The targets are often poor people, people of color or members of the LGBT community.”

Given the ongoing drug epidemic, Beyea said, police departments should steer users into treatment opportunities, not punish them.

Some police departments, including Augusta’s, have been launching programs that pair addicts with coaches who can mentor them and get them into treatment programs – though their efforts have been hindered because many poor drug users do not qualify for health insurance under MaineCare.

As the Monmouth department investigates drug crimes, Mulherin disagreed with the criticism of his “see something, say something” tactic.

“If they’re suspicious, they have every right to contact us,” Mulherin said. “That’s basically how you solve crimes. To me, there’s nothing wrong about that. I don’t think it erodes trust. If your neighbors know each other and they see something peculiar, I wouldn’t hesitate to tell the police.”

While Mulherin does support the right of drug users to seek treatment, his department has not started any programs to direct them to the those opportunities.

One town over, Winthrop police Chief Ryan Frost has expressed an interest in starting such a program, but he said the lack of funding has prevented him from doing so.

However their departments tackle the complicated issues of drug addiction and crime, it’s clear the recent overdoses have rattled at least one Monmouth official. Douglas Ludewig, chairman of the Select Board, expressed confidence in the ability of Monmouth police and the Winthrop Ambulance Service to respond to an increasingly visible problem.

Still, with the recent spate of overdoses, something seems to have changed, Ludewig said.

“I’ve been a teacher in Monmouth for 44 years,” he said. “I always thought of it as being a little bit special, in a way. The fact that this has moved to Monmouth is not surprising, but it is disturbing.”

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