An updated study released on Sept. 23 shows a spike county wide on the growth of methamphetamine use and distribution in Kern County.
The numbers aren’t promising, according to the study released by Kern Stop Meth Now and Kern County Mental Health Department.
The number of meth-related cases have increased since the initial study in 2008, including in Tehachapi, although meth use in the Tehachapi area remains much lower than Bakersfield.
In May, Tehachapi and Stallion Springs police departments participated in the study. Officers for both departments logged what cases that were meth-related in nature.
Of 604 incidents collected from Tehachapi police officers, 84 were confirmed methamphetamine incidents, either alone or combined with alcohol or other drugs.
An additional 45 incidents noted suspected meth use, where officers might suspect an individual was under the influence of meth, but no hard evidence was available.
The total number accounts for 21.3 percent of the incidents logged for the study.
Four meth-related incidents required the removal of children from a home.
In Stallion Springs, the numbers were much lower. Of 211 logged incidents in May, six showed confirmed meth involvement and 22 showed suspected meth-related encounters.
This represented 13.3 percent of all logged encounters in May.
According to the Kern Stop Meth Now report, 50.9 percent of all felonies filed with the District Attorney’s office county-wide are meth-related. This is up from the 37.7 percent in May 2008.
The 2014 study notes that the volume of encounters for May was at 1.3 percent of all the encounters in the county, down from 2.9 percent in May 2014.
However, police officials warned the data does not show the entire picture.
Eight local police departments participated in the study, with documented methamphetamine-related cases ranging from 5.2 percent of encounters to 28.6 percent.
Only a snap shot
While the study shows disturbing trends of meth use, especially for the Tehachapi area, Stallion and Tehachapi police chiefs called it the tip of the iceberg.
“It’s just a snap shot,” said Tehachapi Police Chief Kent Kroeger. He said the data is based only on one month of information and observations collected by participating agencies.
“To say that methamphetamine use is down in Tehachapi is probably inaccurate and a stretch,” Kroeger said. “We’re still seeing a substantial number of methamphetamine-related contacts in the city.”
Kroeger called Tehachapi’s percentage of meth-related encounters disturbing.
He said his department recognizes methamphetamine as a serious issue.
“We are aggressively pursuing all narcotic-related cases, but we’re also taking an educational approach,” Kroeger said. The educational approach is aimed at middle and high school aged children and at parents.
Tehachapi Police Department has also participated in a joint operation with sheriff’s departments from Los Angeles, Riverside County, the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency in September. While the department no longer participates in the Kern Narcotics Enforcement Team, it still maintains a relationship.
Stallion Springs Police Chief Mike Grant said the results of the study aren’t completely surprising.
However, he added Stallion doesn’t have nearly as a large of a methamphetamine problem as other communities.
“We don’t have as a big of an issue,” Grant said. Of all the meth-related cases this year, Stallion has not dealt with sales-related cases.
Like Kroeger, Grant called the 2014 meth impact study a snapshot.
“You are only taking a small segment of encounters,” Grant said. “But the report does give you a sense of the bigger picture.”
Indeed, the Kern Stop Meth Now report notes the shortcomings of the May snapshot study. The problems include an inability to determine estimate the prevalence of use, to calculate the impact and costs meth use has on local and county budgets, and variations of the data collected across different agencies.
The report does give a good starting point for tackling meth use in Kern County.
Mental health issues
Stallion’s police department refers people who might need help to Kern County-provided services, including mental health services.
“Meth use and mental health problems kind of co-exist,” Grant said. “People who use meth over a long period typically suffer some mental health issues.”
The 2014 report makes a strong connection between the two. Meth use accounted for 42.6 percent of all Kern County Mental Health substance abuse treatment cases between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014.
Kroeger noted that the Tehachapi area lacks significant mental health resources, but his department continues to try and identify resources it can use.
The 2014 Kern Stop Meth Now report places a major emphasis on community outreach and prevention in addition to law enforcement techniques.
With a strain on local and county jailing facilities because of the state’s prison realignment program, education becomes more important, said Dixie King from Kern Stop Meth Now.
King presented the report to the Kern County Board of Supervisors on Sept. 23, and has been involved in a county-wide initiative combat meth use. However, not every method of outreach fits every community.
“We feel very strongly that each community should approach this problem in its own way,” King said by phone on Sept. 23. “Every community’s problem is different and I believe it can only be solved by a community coming together.”
Kroeger said Tehachapi PD is working with LAW Publications on a brochure to educate middle and high school students, and the public at large, on the dangers of drug use.
“It’s critical to get middle and high school kids engaged early and have them understand what the dangers are,” Kroeger said.