In an effort to alert Alaskans about the dangers of the illegal, destructive and highly addictive drug methamphetamine, the statewide Alaska Meth Education Program will launch an all-out media blitz this spring.
Early last year, the Tri-Borough Commission mayors representing the Kenai Peninsula Borough, Matanuska-Susitna Borough and the Municipality of Anchorage, committed to creating the Alaska Meth Education (AME) program. That program has since become a statewide effort.
Tim Anderson, former mayor of the Mat-Su Borough, is now coordinator of the AME program and is paid by the Municipality of Anchorage. He addressed the Feb. 8 meeting of the commission in Soldotna, as well as a meeting of the Peninsula Conference of Mayors held the same day.
According to Anderson, the media campaign planned for this spring will use television, radio and newspapers in an effort to educate Alaskans about the increasing threat of meth use, and to reach Alaska youth with the slogan “Never a First Time.”
In a memo to the mayors, Anderson said AME’s mission was developing a program to provide prevention materials (videos, print materials and training materials) to be distributed to school districts, youth clubs, parents, medical facilities and other outlets. The intention is not to reinvent the wheel, but use the best of existing practices and programs from around the country, he said.
A statewide survey showed very little in the way of meth education efforts in Alaska, Anderson noted. The meth education effort has included seeking federal dollars through Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office, similar to earmarks going to other states to combat meth.
The spring media blitz in Alaska will mirror similar efforts in other states that have proved successful in raising public awareness. AME also hopes to sponsor and hold a statewide conference on methamphetamine.
A secondary goal, Anderson said, is to seek additional funding for the project. The private sector has already shown considerable interest. Local government money is needed to provide seed money to get the project rolling. However, Anderson also said it was never the intent that an ongoing program would be funded by local government.
“That should be strictly voluntary,” he said.
The Kenai Peninsula Borough has participated through Central Peninsula Hospital, which Thursday presented Anderson and the AME program with a check for $25,000. Borough Mayor John Williams said there also had been financial participation by the cities of Kenai and Soldotna, and that it was felt that the appropriate way for the borough to participate was through the hospital.
The estimated 2007 project budget of around $302,000 would include $200,000 in local government contributions, $50,000 in state appropriations, $50,000 in private sector contributions, and around $2,000 from in investment earnings of the Alaska Community Foundation. That money would be spent on the media advertising campaign, various educational materials, community resource kits, assistance grants, the meth education summit and administrative costs.
“Meth is a problem in our communities. We have to realize it and face it,” Anderson told the assembled mayors and municipal officials.
While Alaska’s growing meth problem could be said to be small compared to other places in the country, its growth led Mat-Su and Anchorage governments to include calls for anti-meth laws in their legislative priority lists over the past few years. Some laws have been passed at the state and federal levels, such as those removing from store shelves cold remedies containing chemicals that can be turned into methamphetamine. Such laws apparently have had an effect.
According to the Department of Public Safety, in 2004 there were 66 illegal meth labs busted in the state. In 2005, only 37 meth labs were raided.
“But that doesn’t mean the problems is going away,” said Mary Anderson, Tim’s wife who also is involved in the AME project. “What we have now is that they are importing in from the Lower 48 and Southeast Asia.”
Recent studies have shown that 6 percent of Alaska high school students have used meth at least once, she said. Furthermore, the meth problem is not limited to large urban areas. In 2005 five meth labs were discovered on the Kenai Peninsula, Mary Anderson said. Alaskans need to be aggressive in attacking the meth problem and can learn much from the experiences of other states, she said.
“Montana is one of the most widely publicized campaigns there is. ‘Not Even One’ is their motto,” she said. “We can use a program similar to that, and that’s what AME is trying to do. ‘Never a First Time’ is our motto.”
Also planned is an in-school program to be added to school health curricula, Mary Anderson said. She also noted a new anti-meth program launched by the Boys and Girls Club, and training kits to educate communities similar to what she called “meth 101” programs in other states that include ways to recognize a meth lab. Another program being started in Fairbanks is called Meth Watch, similar to Crime Watch, she said.
Also engaged in the anti-meth effort is Marathon Oil Company. Dorysa Moore, Marathon’s Human Resources Manager, said they have a statewide program in Wyoming.
“One of the things we are trying to do at Marathon is to run a meth program in the areas where we operate,” she said. “We are looking to branch out here in Alaska and some of our other locations.”
AME is seeking private donations and has a fund at the Alaska Community Foundation. You can visit the program’s Web site at www.AlaskaMethEd.com.
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