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Cops, addicts work to break meth’s hold on island

Diane Gerrodette, Freeland, uses the over-the-counter medication Sudafed when she is suffering from a cold. Here she studies the locked cabinet at Payless grocery store, where the retailer now stores cold medications with the ingredient  pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in methamphetamine. - Gayle Saran
Diane Gerrodette, Freeland, uses the over-the-counter medication Sudafed when she is suffering from a cold. Here she studies the locked cabinet at Payless grocery store, where the retailer now stores cold medications with the ingredient pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in methamphetamine.
— image credit: Gayle Saran

Island County Sheriff’s detectives are cracking down on methamphetamine manufacturers, dealers and users in Island County.

During the past two weeks, Island County Sheriff’s detectives have arrested 10 people for meth related crimes.

The most recent three arrests, on Nov. 3, involved an active meth lab in a home on Fort Nugent Road, north of Coupeville.

The week before, deputies arrested five people in the process of setting up a lab on Highland Drive on North Whidbey, and two more carrying meth chemicals in a stolen car.

“We are on a roll,” said Sgt. Mike Beech, chief of detectives for the Island County Sheriff’s Office.

Beech said the recent arrests are impacting the availability of meth on South Whidbey.

What deputies discovered as a result of these investigations is a form of meth — called “glass” or “ice” — that seems to be unique to the area. And, they say, it is a more potent form of the drug than they have seen in the past.

“Glass, so far, is only being secured in Whatcom, Skagit, San Juan and Island Counties,” Beech said.

Beech said this seems to indicate that it is being produced somewhere in these areas, including in Island County. Cost of the drug, according to Beech is “$20 a hit (a quarter gram) in the northend and $25 a hit on South Whidbey.”

A confidential informant provided information about the meth lab on Fort Nugent Road. Three men — ages 33, 20 and 18 — were arrested. Beech said all of those arrested have been of adults.

Beech warns retailers to watch for increased sales of dry ice which is being used to manufacture “glass.” Along with dry ice, rock salt is used in the storage of the dry ice.

Beech explained how the new form is produced.

“The actual process is to take meth that’s already made, then dissolve it in acetone. This solution is then cooled by dry ice, which causes the crystals to form,” he said.

Sheriff’s personnel first encountered the new from of meth during a drug arrest earlier this fall.

Beech says he believes ice is to meth what crack is to cocaine, inexpensive to produce and highly addictive.

Following last week’s arrests, deputies secured the Fort Nugent Road house until Washington State Patrol’s lab team arrived Tuesday to clean up the dangerous, toxic chemicals.

State patrol officers dressed in “moonsuits” carried out a tank of ammonia glass, dry ice, fertilizer, rock salt and other common chemicals.

With the chemicals removed, the Island County Health Department and state Department of Ecology will determine whether the property will ever be habitable.

So far, the sheriff’s office has made 128 drug-related arrests this year. According to the Island County Coroner, Robert Bishop, one person on the average, dies each year of an actual toxic overdose of meth.”

But meth is a contributing factor in other causes of death like auto accidents, heart attacks and strokes.

The Fort Nugent lab was the first active meth lab the sheriff’s office has found this year.

“But we have responded to several ‘dump sites’ and locations where meth had been being produced,” Beech said.

The production of meth recently caused a fire in a travel trailer where the drug was being produced. Dump sites have usually contained empty anhydrous ammonia containers, mason jars, coffee filters, and other glass containers used in making the drug.

Beech warns the public to contact the sheriff’s office if they find these items dumped somewhere.

“Don’t try to handle them. They can be explosive and highly toxic,” Beech said.

Whidbey News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland contributed to this story.

Jessie Stensland / staff photo

Members of the Washington State patrol’s meth lab cleanup team carry a tank of ammonia from the basement of a home on Fort Nugent Road near Penn Cove Nov. 4

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