American Morning

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August 10th, 2009
10:38 AM ET

Little Maine town has big heroin problem

When you think of the war on drugs you often think of cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington, D.C. But coastal Maine?

You may be surprised to hear in a tiny area of New England, heroin has become a massive problem; too big to contain.

"It's very available out here. It's scary," says recovering drug addict Leeanne Lariviere.

Thousands of miles from the drug cartels of Mexico – Kittery, Maine in bucolic New England is a new Mecca for heroin use.

Detective Steve Hamel of the Kittery Police Department has been working narcotics for two decades. He says he's seen it all, but never this.

“My case load alone for heroin and OxyContin has tripled over the past three years."

Detectives are working around the clock. Dealers are making a killing. And the addicts are some of Maine's youngest; getting high on $5 a hit.

“It's cheaper than a six-pack of beer for most high school kids," says Detective Hamel.

And highly addictive.

"We've tended to think a drug is a drug is a drug. … One of the things that's happening with heroin is that the craving for the drug happens months and months and months after they've put it down," drug counselor Carol Larson tells us.

Treatment for heroin addiction in Maine was up 40 percent last year according to the Maine Office of Substance Abuse.

Some are not able to kick the habit, like 17-year-old Bethany Fritz, who died of a heroin overdose in 2004. Since then, Kittery police say another four from the area have died; all in their twenties.

Why Maine?

"Little Kittery, Maine – people think, 'wow, nothing goes on up there. Law enforcement's way behind the times ... I can blend in better up there,'" says Detective Hamel.

And it never ends. The day of our visit a heroin arrest is front page news. But Detective Hamel promises to keep up the fight.

“I really don't think we're ever gonna win. But if we weren't there, just think how bad it would be if we weren't there doing what we do. … For every one we get, maybe 10 get away, but we're still gonna stay in the fight.

Filed under: Drugs
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