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PUBLISHED: 10:44 AM on Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Meth 'epidemic'
Seminar helps communities battle drug labs
As the number of users and manufacturers of methamphetamine continues to grow within the borders of the 49th state, it is increasingly important that communities become aware of the problem and develop methods to deal with it.

In 2004, the Alaska Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Enforcement seized 62 methamphetamine labs in the state. In 2003, that number was 45, and in 2002, it was 28.

"Methamphetamines are definitely getting to be a problem in Alaska, especially in the Mat-Su Valley," said Judith Mason, communications officer of Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority. "We are also beginning to see more activity in Southeast, especially in the smaller communities like Prince of Wales, so it's important that we inform ourselves about the problem so we can combat it head-on."

To this end, Tlingit-Haida Regional Housing Authority and the National Indian Housing Council have joined forces to sponsor a one-day seminar on how to deal with meth labs. The seminar, entitled Methamphetamines: A Growing Problem will be Friday, Jan. 20, in Juneau at the Tlingit and Haida Vocational Technical Resource Center. This seminar was also held earlier in January in Anchorage, Ketchikan and Craig.

"We've invited a wide spectrum of community agencies and individuals throughout the state to attend the seminar, including housing authorities, municipalities, tribal entities, private and non-private property managers, realtors, caseworkers, healthcare providers and more," Mason said. "It's important to realize that this is not just a housing issue-it's a community issue."

According to the Alaska State Troopers Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Enforcement Web site, the manufacture and distribution of methamphetamines in Alaska has reached epidemic proportions. Not only is the drug dangerous, but the labs themselves involve the use of ignitable, reactive and toxic chemicals that can result in explosions, fires and toxic fumes.

"One of the things that this seminar will teach is how to identify the warning signs that a meth lab may be in your neighborhood," Mason said. "One of the strongest indicators is the smell-there's a stench of chemicals cooking that permeates the air around a lab. There's also usually a lot of activity-a lot of people coming and going.

Jay T. Barton, a 17-year veteran of law enforcement, will facilitate the daylong seminar. A full-time training specialist and technical assistant specialist with the National American Indian Housing Council in Washington, D.C., Barton travels around the country teaching groups about meth labs.

The program includes information on how to recognize a lab, how to protect oneself when dealing with meth, how to safely deal with a family suspected of running a lab, who is responsible for cleaning up a lab, and the potential costs associated with the disposal of such a facility.

"The more people who are involved in identifying potential meth labs, the better it will be," Mason said. "We've already hosted meth training for our employees, but it seemed time to offer this same service to the community-we've got to get the information out there."

This information is especially important as methamphetamine producers increasingly use single and multi-family residences as their laboratories, placing neighboring families in danger. In the past few years, clandestine labs have also been found operating out of hotel and motel rooms.

"It's pretty scary when you think about it-you can stumble across these labs anywhere and cause a lot of damage to your own health," Mason said. "Having it available in neighborhoods also increases the chances of kids trying the drug, which is really addictive. From what I understand, the statistics for getting off of meth are not very good."

Methamphetamine, which is also known as meth, speed, crank, crystal and ice, can be smoked, snorted, injected or taken orally. The effects, which include an increase in energy and alertness and an intense rush, can last up to 12 hours. It is fairly easy to manufacture the drug using some common household items, including ephedrine or pseudoephedrine, found in cold and allergy tablets, lithium batteries, starter fluid, rock or table salt, and coffee filters.

The cost to attend the seminar, which will take place from 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. is $75. For more information or to preregister, call Diana Arnold at (907) 780-3107 or visit www.thrha.org.


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