PORTLAND, MAINE >> While law enforcement officials grapple with an epidemic of heroin and fentanyl abuse, rampant methamphetamine production has gotten so bad that state law enforcement officers on Tuesday warned residents not to pick up discarded bottles alongside roads.
The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency has responded to 86 meth incidents during the first six months of 2016, compared to 56 responses for all of last year, said Maine Public Safety Commissioner John Morris.
Forty-four of the law enforcement responses dealt with dump sites, usually found along roads or at other outdoor locations, Morris said. Plastic soda bottles containing the residue of meth-making chemicals are dangerous to anyone who handles them, he warned.
The Department of Public Safety was unaware of anyone being hurt by handling tainted soda bottles, but wanted the public to be aware of the potential.
"The numbers speak for themselves. We just wanted to get a warning out there for people who pick up bottles alongside the road, or if they're just trying to be good Samaritans and clean up garbage. If it doesn't look right then leave it alone," spokesman Steve McCausland said.
Methamphetamine is made by mixing common household ingredients, with the key component being a nasal decongestant, pseudoephedrine.
There has been slow growth in the number of people seeking treatment for meth abuse, compared to the explosive growth in heroin and fentanyl addiction. Last year, a record 272 people died in Maine from overdoses from opioids including heroin and fentanyl.
When it comes to meth, the majority of responses to meth labs or dump sites have been in Aroostook and Penobscot counties, Morris said.
The average cost for each response is $3,000 for a meth lab and $500 for a dump site. When a meth lab is found, agents launch an investigation to identity everyone involved in the investigation, even those who bought the ingredients.