Peninsula meth use persists

Despite the efforts of local law enforcement, consumption of crystal methamphetamine continues to be a problem across the Peninsula, including the central Kenai and Soldotna areas.


There has been a significant decrease in the number of labs producing the drug, but processed meth still remains in the area. 

Methamphetamine-related arrests on the Peninsula have remain consistent through the past three years, according to local authorities, and the increase of imported narcotics, such as meth and heroin, contribute to the consistency.

“I believe the numbers are consistent with last year,” Kenai Police Chief Gus Sandahl said of meth-related arrests. 

“One theory is that as long as there are people with certain cravings in the community there’s always going to be people who are seeking out drugs for illicit purposes. Unfortunately,” he said. 

The South Central Area Wide Narcotics Unit focuses on drug investigations primarily on the Peninsula. The unit consists of an Alaska State Troopers sergeant, criminal justice technician, investigator and a Kenai Police Department officer. The unit also works closely with the Soldotna and Kenai police chiefs.

Sgt. Sonny Sabala of the narcotics unit said arrests by Troopers and local department patrol officers relating to meth have been consistent, but there may be a slight increase this year.

A total of 100 grams of meth have been seized by law enforcement agencies on the Kenai Peninsula this year as of Sept. 11, according to an analysis of reports by the Statewide Drug Enforcement Unit.

Last year, 231 grams were seized on the Peninsula, and in 2009, 72 grams were seized. 

Statewide in 2009, a total of 20,728 grams were seized while 2,055 grams were seized in 2010. 

In hopes of slowing the state’s consumption and production of crystal methamphetamine, Alaska officials in 2006 passed a measure establishing restrictions on over-the-counter sales of pseudoephedrine productions, which are used to make the highly addictive and destructive drug.

By monitoring Sudafed logs at local pharmacies the narcotics unit has made an effort to reduce the number of secret meth labs on the Kenai Peninsula.

However, Kristie Sellers, director of behavioral health at Central Peninsula Hospital, said meth abuse remains a significant problem in the area.

An average of three out of nine beds available at the Serenity House Treatment Center at CPH since Nov. 2009 were used for patients admitted for meth abuse, she said. This is not an increase, however. 

“There is relative stability with the amount of methamphetamine users that we’re admitting for treatment over the past two years, so it’s not really up or down,” she said.

The biggest difference Sellers has witnessed regarding drug abuse patterns in the area is an increase of injection drug use — drugs injected via needles. 

“Heroin and meth can be injected,” she said. “I don’t know exactly what it is, but what I’m seeing is (an increase of) 10 percent injection drug users in treatment to probably 50 percent injection drug users in treatment.”

Clinic logs show an increase in the use of opioids; a chemical found in pills, such as OxyContin and Vicodin, and drugs such as heroin. It is possible the increase is due to an increase in heroine use, she said. 

Meth labs are rare in the Peninsula now. They peaked in the mid 2000s and decreased more so with the pseudoephedrine regulations of 2006.

“Once those regulations were put in place and mandatory log entry began we saw a decrease in the labs,” he said. “But there’s still one (lab) that we come across every now and again.”

In October 2010, the Kenai Police Department impounded a vehicle they believed had items relating to meth production. After obtaining a search warrant, Sabala was called down and verified the items were associated with meth. 

In July of 2011, Troopers found a partial lab. Chemicals and dry components remained sealed inside of containers. Investigators collected the items. 

These are the only meth lab incidents to take place in the last two years. 

Troopers have worked with Central Emergency Services in the past, dealing with house fires resulting from meth lab accidents. A derelict house located in the Kalifornsky Beach area that burned down four years ago was the last such incident, CES Fire Marshal Gary Hale recalled. 

With the decrease of labs, the narcotics unit has observed an increase amount of processed meth and heroin being imported to the area.

There are multiple methods used to import drugs to the area, Sabala said. 

“You name it. People carry it on their bodies, they mail it ... and they stash it in vehicles and transport it down here,” he said.

A factor of consistent meth use around the state is increased use of the “shake and bake” production method, which allows users to manufacture meth in vehicles using fewer ingredients. Remnants of the production method are often discarded in local neighborhoods, as well as remote areas, creating environmental hazards, according to the Alaska Justice Forum. 

The dangerous production method has not reached the area. 

“We haven’t had a shake and bake down here that we’ve discovered yet,” Sabala said. “It has popped up in the Mat-Su Valley and Fairbanks.”

Local law enforcement officials remain persistent in trying to suppress illegal drug use and distribution. All departments have ongoing investigations involving both, Sandahl said. 

Meth, heroin and prescription drug abuse are the top three concerns in the area, he said. Heroin became a problem a few years ago, and, if Sandahl had to guess, the number one problem in the area is abuse of prescription medications.

The numbers will likely become clearer in February of 2012, when police release their annual reports detailing drug statistics to local government agencies.