Today, Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy addressed the fentanyl crisis in Alaska, highlighting the effort of healthcare officials and others to spread the warning: one pill can kill.
As fentanyl and fentanyl precursors flow from China to Mexico, the drug makes its way to Alaska through an insufficiently protected southern border. Often in the form of counterfeit pills or added to heroin or other drugs. While extremely poisonous, (100 times more potent than morphine) fentanyl is used by dealers because it is extremely addictive to the user, even in amounts the size of a few grains of salt.
“As a result of that total disregard for the safety of others, these drug dealers will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law including being charged with manslaughter if an individual ingests that drug and dies,” said Governor Dunleavy. “I will be asking for the Legislature to increase the penalties to the maximum extent possible for anyone who deals fentanyl or fentanyl-laced drugs.”
Fentanyl is driving a 71 percent increase in opioid deaths in Alaska from 2020 to 2021. This insidious drug is a threat to all Alaskans. Overdose deaths increased 25 percent in the same time period for Alaskans aged 15-24. A larger increase of nearly 200 percent was seen in young working adults aged 25 to 34.
“At the state level, agencies are developing additional strategies and resources with federal partners to protect Alaskans from the scourge of fentanyl and fentanyl-laced illegal opioids,” said Governor Dunleavy. Today the Governor addressed public health stakeholders and drug awareness advocates at True North Recovery, an outpatient clinic in Wasilla.
“At the federal level, we will continue our work with other governors and press the Biden Administration to do more to stop China’s shipments of fentanyl and fentanyl precursors to Mexico and protect our southern border,” said Governor Dunleavy. (The Governor has joined 25 other Governors in the American Governor’s Border Strike Force) Attorney General Taylor is also working with his colleagues (See, January, 2022, letter attached).
Last week the Alaska High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) initiative, which includes the Alaska State Troopers along with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, seized more than $356,000 worth of illegal narcotics in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska. In the first three months of 2022, the Alaska HIDTA initiatives has seized 1,244 grams of fentanyl, enough to kill 622,000 Alaskans. Just two milligrams of fentanyl could be lethal.
“The Alaska State Troopers and our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners are committed to disrupting the drug trafficking that is occurring across the state and taking the lives of far too many Alaskans,” stated James Cockrell, Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Public Safety. “While law enforcement is only one piece of the united effort to combat fentanyl, heroin, and methamphetamine in Alaska, we will continue to hold those who deal these dangerous drugs accountable for their reckless actions.”
Here are some statistics on fentanyl:
- Sharp surges in drug overdose deaths have been reported nationwide. Alaska has experienced a 71 percent increase in the number of drug overdose deaths between 2020 and 2021 – from 146 drug overdose deaths in 2020 to 253 in 2021, according to preliminary mortality data from the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS).
- In 2021, nearly six out of every 10 drug overdose deaths involved fentanyl, consistent with national trends.
- The DEA estimates that four out of every 10 pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose.
Alaska is seeing on average 14.8 overdoses per 100,000 people, with the highest doses per capita rate in Anchorage at 20.8 overdoses per 100,000 people followed by Ketchikan, Juneau, Kenai Peninsula and the Mat-Su.
Last week, the Division of Public Health received materials to create 11,000 naloxone kits. Teams assembled several thousand kits for distribution. Public Health is also sending materials to 100 agencies to distribute. Naloxone is a nasal spray that quickly reverses an overdose by blocking the effects of opioids. It also has no harmful side effects. Naloxone is also available from pharmacies across the state. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has been engaged in multiple education, intervention, and prevention efforts on opioids since 2017 and is updating the Statewide Opioid Action Plan.
“The Department of Health and Social Services, and our partners around the state, are focused on early intervention and prevention strategies while at the same time enhancing access to treatment and recovery services,” said Adam Crum, Commissioner of Health and Social Services. “It will take all of us working together to change the generational impacts illegal drugs have had on families and friends.”
Today, Governor Dunleavy directed Commissioner Crum to reach and warn schools and parents through an alert bulletin, in addition to ongoing outreach efforts with school nurses across the state.
Longtime Anchorage resident and clinician Sandy Snodgrass lost her 22-year-old son, Robert Bruce Snodgrass, in 2021. “It’s a poisoning,” said Snodgrass who has been advocating fentanyl awareness since the death of her son. “I’m advocating for education and awareness for other Alaskans, so they do not have to attempt to survive the loss of a child due to a fentanyl poisoning.”
Learn more about opioids at https://dhss.alaska.gov/dph/Director/Pages/opioids/home.aspx
If you or anyone that you know has information about drug trafficking in Alaska, please call the Alaska State Troopers at (907) 451-5100, or to remain anonymous, submit a tip on the AKtips smartphone app or online at: https://www.dps.alaska.gov/tips