Addiction problems force stores to move common household items behind counter
While alcohol abuse in Alaska is nothing new, desperation among addicts is becoming more visible inside Anchorage grocery stores. When users can no longer legally buy liquor, they turn to common household products, forcing many businesses to move them behind the counter, in some cases storing them under lock and key.
Last month, while filming an unrelated story, a KTVA news crew watched a man near Bean’s Café down two small bottles of liquid, throw them on the ground, and ride away on a bike while the camera was rolling. The bottles on the ground, now empty, once held vanilla extract.
Krystal Taddicken, who lives at the Brother Francis Shelter, told KTVA a the time, vanilla extract is an easy way for an addict to get drunk if they can’t buy alcohol.
“It shows that it’s 35 percent minimum of alcohol, it’s one of the highest alcohol there is,” she told KTVA, picking the bottle up off the ground and pointing to the ingredients listed on the back.
It’s not just vanilla extract, addicts are using anything that contains alcohol to get drunk, including mouth wash, hand sanitizer and according to the Anchorage Fire Department, brake fluid.
Taddicken says vanilla extract remains the most popular because it can be purchased with food stamps. But according to multiple grocery stores, the people misusing the products often don’t pay for them.
At Fred Meyer in Midtown, extracts have become such a high theft item, it's been moved behind the counter.
That’s where it's already stored at the Carrs on Gamble Street, in a cabinet employees keep locked. The store also keeps hand sanitizer and mouth wash on shelves behind the register.
“An addict is a person who is very motivated to get their fix,” said Lisa Sauder, executive director of Bean’s Café, where staff members are careful to keep any products containing alcohol away from clients.
Sauder says the new signs posted at grocery stores are a symptom of a much deeper issue and she believes there simply aren’t enough treatment options for people who have addictions in Alaska.
“I think it is a sign of desperation when you go into one of our local grocery stores and you see that they're having to lock up things like vanilla, and cooking sherry, and hand sanitizer," she said. "It speaks to the volume of the problem that we have here in Anchorage and throughout the state.”
When asked if they’ve ever considered banning the sale of vanilla extract through food stamps, the Director of the State Department of Health and Social Services’ Division of Public Assistance Monica Windom, released this statement:
“The only items that can be purchased with SNAP [Food Stamps] are non-prepared food items (for instance an individual cannot buy food at the deli). The only item mentioned below that can be purchased with SNAP is vanilla extract. SNAP is a federal program. There are currently no banned food items on a national level. If Alaska wanted to ban any type of food, we would have to ask for a waiver from the Food & Nutrition Service and await approval before the ban could be implemented. We have not discussed banning food items that may contain alcohol.”