PORTLAND — Scott Durst has spent the past 30 years fighting drugs in Maine, locking up countless users, dealers and distributors as part of his job keeping the streets safe in his adopted state.

Now he’s taking that fight to one of the most dangerous and desolate places on Earth, going after some of the worst drugs at their source — Afghanistan.

Durst, a longtime agent with the Maine Drug Enforcement Agency who served as a soldier in Bosnia and Iraq, left this week for a new mission: as a private contractor training Afghanistan’s drug agents in how to infiltrate and take down narcotics operations.

“It’s something I feel I’ve been training and working for the past 30 years to get to,” he said. “That will be kind of cool, to focus on the supply-end things rather than the demand.”

Durst will be working for Virginia-based Engility’s law enforcement training program, assigned to a military base and working alongside U.S. soldiers as well as drug agents from Great Britain and Australia. He’s not free to discuss all the details and says he doesn’t yet know what the day-to-day operations are going to be like.

Durst’s career is intensifying at an age when many officers are relaxing into retirement. He’s 58, but few people would know it. He works out constantly and brings the same youthful enthusiasm to his job that he did when he joined the Portland Police Department in the early 1980s, said longtime friend Joseph Loughlin, who joined at the same time.

“The guy is still like he’s in his 30s and 40s,” said Loughlin, who rose through the ranks to assistant chief while Durst stayed in the field, often working undercover. “He’s an incredibly fit individual and always seeking challenges, but he’s also dedicated professional, to his country and the city or whatever organization he’s in.”

Loughlin said Durst is relentless about conditioning.

“When he came back from Iraq after being there for 14 months, he was totally exhausted; and yet he signed up for this crazy iron-man contest.” It involved kayaking 12 miles; cycling from Portsmouth, N.H., to Mount Washington; running five miles; then hiking to the peak.

Durst stared his law enforcement carer with the state police in Ohio and moved to Maine in 1979. His first job was working for a private investigator going undercover in a paper mill where employees were stealing and selling paper.

Durst was attached to the 94th Military Police Company as a reservist and was part of a peacekeeper mission in Bosnia. There, he had the chance to carry out humanitarian missions such as securing therapeutic equipment for an school for special-needs children in Lukavac.

His was among one of the earliest units sent to Iraq in 2002. The unit was the focus of attention, as it had its tour extended twice because commanders lacked enough experienced fighters.

Durst spent most of his Maine career with the MDEA, but his position was eliminated as funding cuts have squeezed the drug task force. He spent the past five months working as an investigator for the Maine Department of Corrections.

Durst’s daughter is going to school ot be a physician’s assistant.

His son served in Afghanistan with the Army’s 126th Infantry and returned with a piece of shrapnel in his leg and a purple heart on his record. He will be attending college after he finishes his current service obligation. Now he heads to Afghanistan as the U.S. and other allies are reducing their combat forces and shifting security responsibilities to the Afghan army. The country is as dangerous as ever, with Afghan police firing on NATO troops and the country’s law enforcement effort being targeted by opponents of the government.

“It just means you have to obviously be that much more proactive when it comes to who you trust,” Durst said, adding that he will not be on front-line patrols like a soldier but will probably accompany officers and soldiers on interdiction missions. “My idea is you don’t trust anybody except for your team. You have to essentially be on constant vigil and watch each other prepare for what may come up.”

“If you go in with that attitude — not let down your guard — it’s the only thing you can do,” he said.

Durst said he doubts one man can make a significant dent in the drug trade, which sees tons of opium shipped from Afghanistan to be converted to heroin for use in Europe and America. It’s a consequence of seeing a never-ending parade of people abusing drugs and committing crimes to pay for it.

However, he thinks he can help.

“We couldn’t do it here. I don’t expect to get it done over there. There’s no illusions. Maybe (I could) help one or two officers who are in it for the right reasons,” he said.

“It’s a very corrupt society over there, and you’re going to be messing with their livelihood. It’s such a huge task, it’s not going to be done by Scott Durst.”

Afghanistan is the world’s largest producer of opium, and by extension, probably the biggest contributor to the heroin problem. Much of the population’s income comes from the poppy fields that litter the landscape, he said.

Durst’s dual roles as a soldier with overseas experience and a civilian drug agent made him a good fit for the job, mentoring and training the Afghan equivalent of DEA agents.

They will learn about eradication strategies, setting up undercover drug buys and helping bring solid cases with strong evidence to prosecutors.

He’ll spend 10 days training in Alexandria, then five days at a military processing base getting equipment, qualifying with weapons and getting a final medical clearance before shipping out. He’ll spend a year there, with an option for a second year.

Durst insists he’s not one of those people who needs the rush of combat or its equivalent to give life meaning.

“I think anybody who knows me knows it’s not about adrenaline. It’s about opportunity and the adventure, experiencing different things — and pushing the envelope a little bit. It’s more about the experience than the adrenaline high.”

There’s also more personal benefits. The pay is much better than what he makes as an officer in Maine, though he won’t say how much. And to a guy who shows no signs of slowing down, it will look good on the résumé.

“I don’t know how he accomplishes all that he does,” Loughlin said. “He’s a nonstop individual that just thrives on challenge and trying to make a difference, no matter what he’s done.”

“I’d say to him ‘Why don’t you just take a nap, man?'”

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