Getting the drugs off the street

Posted: Sunday, May 16, 2004

Anybody who wants marijuana in Juneau can pretty much find it, according to the head of the local multiagency drug-enforcement task force.

"School kids, young adults, adults - each group has their own sources," said Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Tim Birt of the Southeast Alaska Narcotics Enforcement Team.

He said users acquire marijuana from whatever age or cultural group they belong to.

Birt works with state and municipal officers throughout the Southeast, often undercover. For people who say "it's only marijuana," he said he knows differently.

"It is a gateway drug" - one that leads to harder drugs, he said. "It is commonly found with harder drugs."

Marijuana is commonly found in busts involving methamphetamine and cocaine, the two most prevalent harder drugs being used in Southeast.

SEANET reported that 9,373 grams of marijuana, worth $184,195, were seized during the first four months of 2004.

SEANET reported that 11,455 grams of marijuana, worth about $250,000, were seized in Southeast in all of 2003.

SEANET seized 571 grams of cocaine with a street value of $68,505 during the first four months of 2004 in Southeast, excluding Ketchikan.

Although its only methamphetamine seizures this were recorded in Ketchikan, a downtown Juneau methamphetamine bust last year contributed to the 986.99 grams of the drug seized throughout the region in 2003.

Last year SEANET seized 1,182.3 grams of cocaine. Troopers estimate that the street value of the cocaine and methamphetamine seized in 2003 exceeded $264,000.

Although SEANET recorded no heroin seized this year, it seized 29.1 grams last year, with a value of nearly $2,000.

Birt said black tar heroin, commonly imported from Mexico, is the variety generally found in Southeast Alaska. He said people mix the sticky black substance with tap water, boil it in a spoon and inject it.

"There are working, functional heroin addicts that you may not know are heroin addicts," Birt said.

Some of the users have been in Juneau for a long time, he said.

"But we have a very transient population, and people bring their drug habits with them," he added.

Birt said he has been fighting drugs since 1996.

"It's definitely a quality-of-life issue, about the health of the individual and the health of the community," he said.

The geography of Southeast presents some drug-enforcement challenges, he said. SEANET works closely with postal inspectors as well as the airlines and the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The goal is to try to interrupt the supply, keeping the drugs off the streets, Birt said. While so much of police work involves reacting to crimes, "we're trying to fight the crime before it happens."

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