Duane Cloutier joined the Waterville Police Department in 2003 after working as a machinist at Mid-State Machine Products in Winslow while raising a family.

Back then, the drugs he saw while working as a night patrol officer were mostly marijuana and cocaine.

Now he’s the sole city detective who focuses on drug cases in the department. The problem has changed to opiates, which are more addictive, he said. Deaths from drug overdoses now average one per day in Maine, mostly from opiates, according to recent statistics from the state attorney general’s office.

Cloutier said a key reason he does this work is because he sees more children and parents dying now. He wants to help them, to save lives.

“You do everything you can do to help them, but I don’t know,” he said. “You know, that definitely drives me, because that just makes me want to get the source that much more.”

Cloutier, 46, said he sees a lot of what already has been described in the epidemic: People get addicted to painkillers, then switch to heroin, a cheaper option that’s “the same exact drug.”

When these drugs become a problem in a community, there are tell-tale signs, he said. Police see pharmacy robberies and increases in thefts as addicts struggle to find a fix. Then they start dying from overdoses, especially when drugs such as fentanyl and acetyl fentanyl, synthetic opioid medications that are dozens of times stronger than heroin, seep into communities.

Cloutier often wears hoodies instead of a uniform because he goes undercover. His graying hair is buzzed short and, despite working in law enforcement for 13 years, he doesn’t look like a hardened cop. He works on five to 10 cases at a time and says it can feel overwhelming.

“People don’t realize how much it’s going on all over the city,” he said. “It’s frustrating I can’t get to everybody’s concern right away.”

Waterville, the city Cloutier grew up in, is now totally different, he said. He grew up in the South End and remembers the long-gone South End Arena, east of Summer Street, where children could ice skate.

Cloutier now sees part of his job as making the city “better for everybody” and said he’ll stay in Waterville for the rest of his career.

“Duane’s position is critical,” police Chief Joseph Massey said. “He just does a great job out there. I can’t praise him enough.”

According to Police Department statistics, in 2015 police made 10 felony drug cases for heroin or its synthetic counterparts and seized almost 5 ounces of heroin. So far in 2016, police have made 17 drug cases for heroin or its synthetic counterparts and seized more than 4 ounces of the drugs.

Cloutier focuses on the sources of drugs, which mainly come from out of state. He conducts undercover drug deals, search warrants and surveillance, and he has informants in the city.

“There’s a difference between the drug addict and the drug dealer,” he said. “(The drug dealers) are the criminals.”

While some might be afraid to do the work he does, to Cloutier it’s thrilling.

“It’s not so much anxiety. It’s adrenaline,” he said, describing a time when his backup team didn’t know where he was after he entered a three-story apartment building during an undercover drug deal. “I don’t tell my family much about what I do, because it makes them nervous.”

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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