Fentanyl overdose deaths in Alaska have more than quadrupled in the past year, according to law-enforcement officials.
ANCHORAGE — Overdose deaths in Alaska involving the synthetic opioid fentanyl more than quadrupled last year, according to a new report.
Alaska State Troopers released its latest annual drug report Wednesday, saying the state’s overall illegal drug problem continues to worsen. With it has come associated crimes, including thefts, burglaries and violence.
According to the report, 37 people in Alaska died of overdoses involving fentanyl and related synthetic opioids in 2017. In 2016, there were eight fentanyl-related deaths.
“We don’t have as many numbers,” Capt. Michael Duxbury said Wednesday. “But I don’t think that matters to anybody that lost a parent, a parent that lost a child.”
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A small amount of fentanyl can kill, said Duxbury, commander of the statewide drug-enforcement unit. The amount of fentanyl seized this past year equals more than 24,000 lethal doses, according to the report.
Heroin, which can sell for as high as $1,000 per gram in remote Alaska communities, is frequently diluted with fentanyl. In addition, fentanyl has been added to methamphetamine and cocaine, Duxbury said.
Given the small population of the vast state — estimated at under 740,000 this past year, according to the U.S. Census — even seemingly small numbers of overdoses can add up. For example, since 2012, Alaska has had one of the highest per-capita death rates in the nation for prescription opioid overdoses, Duxbury said.
Authorities say opioids and other illegal drugs manufactured elsewhere are brought into Alaska by gangs and Mexican drug cartels. Substances are carried to the state by the mail, parcel services and airlines.
To stem the influx of drugs, troopers work with federal law-enforcement agencies and other partners, such as tribal entities, mental-health professionals, schools and church groups, as well as newer partners such as rotary clubs.
This past year, Gov. Bill Walker declared rampant opioid abuse a public-health disaster and proposed spending existing federal grants on a multiyear program for the distribution of naloxone, a drug that can help prevent an overdose.