The package arrived at an Anchorage residence last month containing a cute, fluffy stuffed animal. But it wasn't stuffed with down.

Inside were 200 grams of methamphetamine, worth about $20,000 on the street, according to the U.S. attorney's office. What its recipient, Sinakone Phonsavang, didn't know was that the package had already been intercepted by postal inspectors. Last week he pleaded guilty to attempting to possess meth with intent to distribute, and he is awaiting sentencing.

The phenomenon of mailing drugs is hardly novel. It's relatively cheap and fast, and the people who do it often don't think anyone will notice. They're often wrong, but drugs continue to stream into Alaska via first-class mail and through private carriers, said postal inspector Mark Grenier.

While declining to talk specifically about the techniques used to discover drug shipments, Grenier said his tool kit includes X-raying and scanning packages, and using drug-sniffing dogs.

Drug activity through the mail comes in waves, Grenier said.

"We are in a peak right now. I don't know how long this will last, but it will go back down."

Part of the reason for the increased mailings might be attributed to a crackdown on meth production in the state, said Lt. Andy Greenstreet, deputy commander of the Alaska Bureau of Alcohol and Drug Enforcement.

The bureau shut down 62 labs in 2004; last year that number was down to 18, according to a bureau report.

Restricting sales of a key meth ingredient, pseudoephedrine, undoubtedly played a role in reducing the number of labs, Greenstreet said.

"But with that, the import of drugs is there and is probably compensating for the labs," Greenstreet said. "There's nothing to indicate the use of meth is down."

In fact, the amount of meth confiscated by Greenstreet's bureau has skyrocketed from 1,759 grams in 2004 to 7,971 grams in 2006, according to the report.

Heroin packages discovered coming into the state also seem to be on the rise, Greenstreet said. In a five-day period this month, law enforcement officials in Juneau confiscated 26 grams of heroin from four packages that arrived from Phoenix.

Each bust can make the next one easier. The recipient of the package might turn others in, and investigators are better able to recognize the patterns the senders use, said Alaska State Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters, whose agency has officers who have been certified to inspect suspicious mail.

Some hot spots from which Alaska-bound drug packages originate are big Western cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Phoenix, Greenstreet said.

Having a return address from one of them draws attention to a package, said Grenier, the postal inspector, though he wouldn't say what other criteria flag a package because to do so would help smugglers circumvent detection.

Alaska's isolation from the Lower 48 also contributes to the incidence of drugs being mailed, Grenier said.

"They probably think it's a lot easier than crossing the borders," he said.

The stuffed animal Phonsavang, 27, received had come from Southern California. He is facing up to 40 years in prison and will be sentenced Jan. 9.

  • Drug Facts
  • Due to Xanax's ability to quickly leave the blood stream, traditional drug test can not detect it.
  • Three out of four drugs that are used illegally in the United States are prescription drugs.
  • Mixing Xanax with Alcohol can be deadly.
  • "When people start escalating dosages and self-medicating, they can very quickly become addicted and it can be a very dangerous addiction," said drug expert and author Rod Colvin.
  • Since Xanax is so readily available some abusers may never have to pay for the drug.