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Meth use down, but problem still exists

Kitsap County law enforcement officials are cautiously cheered by recent battles in the war on methamphetamine use.

Meth, or “crank,” is a highly addictive drug which, when shot in the veins, quickly rots users’ teeth, scabs their skin, and works as an accelerated balding device. Those are only side effects.

Meth users commit many types of crime to get their drug of choice.

“Meth use drives our other crimes, especially violent crimes,” Kitsap County Sheriff Steve Boyer said.

Recent statistics seem to suggest the state and Kitsap County are, if not winning the war, starting to win several battles.

There have been fewer meth labs discovered in Kitsap County so far this year than in the same time frame in 2002. And 2002’s lab discovery numbers were down about 10 percent from 2001.

A big drug bust last year might be part of the reason for the “good” recent results, according to Sgt. Randy Drake, who heads WESTNET (composed of detectives from across the state).

Drake, a former state patrol officer now works for Boyer.

“Last September we took down a major Hispanic crime group from Tacoma that had been bringing in 100 pounds (of meth) a month (into Kitsap County). Taking that group off helped,” Drake said.

But each good thing has its down side. Drake said the less meth there is around, the higher the price for what is available.

“Last year you could buy (an ounce) for $400 to $600,” he said. “Now it’s (selling for) $1,200 to $1,600 an ounce.”

Another negative is, as liquid meth grows scarcer, other drugs are filling the narcotic void.

“We’re starting to see a lot of ‘ice’ here,” Drake said.

Ice is a powdery methamphetamine product which is smoked instead of injected. According to experts ‘ice’s’ long-term effects are as deleterious to a user’s health as liquid crank. But the decay isn’t as rapid or as obvious as it is for those shooting the drug on a regular basis.

But overall, Drake is encouraged.

“We’re enjoying the decline that the state and the entire nation are enjoying,” he said.

The veteran officer believes some of the positive change is based on user fatigue.

“These things go in cycles,” he said. “Like marijuana and cocaine, (to an extent) replaced by meth (locally). And (meth) is just so devastating ... and there are more treatment options, more education, more prevention strategies,” Drake said.

Penalties have also been increased.

“It’s a felony to be caught with (certain amounts) anhydrous ammonia,” Drake said. “It’s a commercial grade fertilizer and is used in ice making. They steal it for the reaction phase of the cooking process. The State Legislature made it illegal two years ago and now to possess it is a felony. They (cookers) keep it in propane barbecue tanks.”

Another problem has been cookers stealing Sudafed, a decongestant, which is broken down and used in the cooking process in much larger amounts than a tablet or two for nasal problems, according to Drake.

“There were mini-marts in the area that were willing to sell cases of (Sudafed) at a time,” he said. “We did some undercover stuff and put $1,500 on the counter and bought cases of it. If they (store clerks) knowingly sell it, that is a felony. This is being attacked from a lot of different angles.”

Drake refused to call the current state of affairs a victory over meth though.

“I think it’s too early to call,” Boyer added. “But I am cautiously optimistic. It’s not time to let our guard down. It’s still the most serious problem facing our community. It’s one of the most important priorities we have.”

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