By Nicholas Grube

Triplicate staff writer

A new designer drug might be making its way to Del Norte County - and its main target is kids.

The narcotic, strawberry , looks and tastes like rock candy, yet it is just as potent and lethal.

There's only been one seizure of strawberry meth - or andquot;strawberry quickandquot; as it's sometimes called - in Del Norte County, when Del Norte County Sheriff's deputies found a small amount while serving a search warrant in January.

andquot;The first time I looked at it, it looked like it had some red phosphorus in it,andquot; said Detective Sergeant Steve Morris, who heads the Del Norte Sheriff's Office drug task force. andquot;I've never seen methamphetamine with that red coloring, but at the time I didn't know about strawberry meth.andquot;

But he doubts that he'll find much more of it, at least in the short term.

andquot;It's not anything that's taking over yet,andquot; he said. andquot;The fad's too young.andquot;

Morris said he spoke with law enforcement officials in both Humboldt and Curry counties, but they haven't encountered any strawberry meth as of yet. But he added that he wouldn't be surprised to encounter the drug in the future.

andquot;It's probably like any other fad - the dirtbags are going to want to try it,andquot; he said. andquot;Right now the people we're dealing with are not involved in designer methamphetamine. We haven't heard the people on the street talk about it at all.andquot;

But it's the marketing of this drug that concerns local and state law enforcement because it's aimed at young children and adolescents.

andquot;The drug traffickers' big motivation is marketing,andquot; Crescent City Police Chief Doug Plack said. andquot;They have a tendency to direct their drugs toward the youth of today ... (because) it's easy for a drug dealer to coerce or entice young kids.andquot;

And strawberry meth, with it's candy-like appearance and taste, lends itself to this tactic, Plack said.

andquot;It takes away the metallic-type taste and odor that meth has,andquot; he said, making it more ap-pealing to first-time users and children.

andquot;I think the reason they market it this way, they want to give kids the idea that it's not as potent as regular methamphetamine,andquot; he said. andquot;There is no difference.andquot;

Both Plack and Morris said the flavoring and color is added during the meth cooking process, which involves mixing ephedrine and toxic chemicals such as lye, sulfuric acid and antifreeze. This means the drug maintains its potency because it is not cut with artificial flavor or coloring agents.

But this new meth is not only limited to strawberry flavoring. There can be many different flavors, said Bill Ruzzamenti, director of the Central Valley High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Area.

andquot;We've also heard about chocolate and cherry methamphetamine as well,andquot; Ruzzamenti said. He added that users put the drug between their gum and their cheek - similar to the use snuff or chewing tobacco - to ingest the chemicals.

He compares this new form of meth to Yaba, another designer methamphetamine that comes in pill form and is ingested orally.

andquot;I think (strawberry meth) is sort of a progressive knock-off of this,andquot; Ruzzamenti said.

However, strawberry meth seems to be elusive, even in the area it supposedly originated from - Sacramento.

andquot;We just really haven't seen any of it,andquot; said Ruzzamenti, whose jurisdiction includes Sacramento. andquot;We've heard about it from informants, but we haven't seized any of it on the street.andquot;

Though law enforcement officials have encountered a miniscule amount of strawberry meth in Del Norte County, Police Chief Plack said there is still cause for concern.

andquot;We have a meth problem up here,andquot; he said. andquot;We need to focus on stopping this because if we don't, we're not going to have a community.

andquot;This (strawberry meth) is just one ploy of many that are out there, and there are many more to come.andquot;