Officer's Fatal Overdose Prompts Question About Drug Screenings For Cops

By Victoria Kim 05/09/19

The fatal overdose of an officer in Maine have many wondering how his drug use went undetected by the department.

police officers

The fentanyl overdose death of a police officer in Maine has sparked inquiry into the drug testing policies of police departments across the state. How could Nicholas Meserve’s drug problem have gone undetected?

The 34-year-old Lewiston police officer died of acute fentanyl intoxication on February 8, according to the state medical examiner.

“I was kind of shocked,” said John Rogers, director of the Maine Criminal Justice Academy. “I’d never seen that in my time here as a director, where you have an officer who dies of an overdose because he has a drug problem.”

A report by the Portland Press Herald revealed that universal drug-testing policies are not the standard, but an exception in Maine.

Only one town, Baileyville, does pre-employment drug testing, testing with probable cause and random testing. Only two others, Houlton Police and the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office also conduct pre-employment drug screenings.

In Portland, prospective police officers must complete a questionnaire on past drug use as part of the department’s rigorous hiring process. They must also undergo psychological testing and a polygraph exam. Any red flags raised in the process are investigated further, said acting Portland Police Chief Vern Malloch.

Malloch gives a detailed overview of the Portland Police Department’s policy regarding officers’ behavior. Once they are hired, they are subject to performance reviews. Their patterns of behavior are monitored with data to detect any irregularities.

And if there is a problem, officers have the option to seek help with an employee assistance program or a peer support system. Malloch says the department has helped officers get help for their depression and alcoholism.

“The last thing we want to do is discourage employees from coming forward because (they think) it will cost them their job,” said Malloch. “We want employees to come forward so we can address it adequately and get the person well so they can return to being a productive officer.”

Typically, alcohol abuse is the “more common” issue among police, says John Rogers. Between 2008-2016, the Maine Criminal Justice Academy board saw 25 cases of drug-involved criminal conduct or past actions by police or corrections officers, the Press Herald reported. In that same period, the board saw 69 alcohol cases, many of them for operating under the influence.

As a result of Meserve’s untimely death, Lewiston Police Chief Brian T. O’Malley said the city is working with the police unions to establish a drug-testing policy so that another officer with a drug problem may not go undetected.

As the Press Herald reports, Lewiston does offer an employee assistance program and peer support team for officers in need. They also track each officer’s use of force, how much sick time is used, job performance evaluations and complaints from the public.

Meserve’s record made no indication that he was struggling with drug use, O’Malley said.

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