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The great state of Alaska, known as "The Last Frontier" and located in the northwest extremity of the United States (just across the Bering Strait) is arguably the most remote state in the country. And while it's the largest US state by area, (571,951 square miles) it's also the most sparsely populated, with less than 750,000 residents-that's an average of only 1.3 residents per square mile! This extreme remoteness, coupled by the harshness of weather and terrain, and the fact that in the northern most regions it's dark almost 6 months out of the entire year, makes Alaska a prime candidate for widespread drug and alcohol addiction.
Alaska is among the leaders country-wide in alcoholism. Perhaps its due to the long, dark arctic winters, where depression and lack of light can get the better of people; perhaps it stems from the need to keep isolation and boredom at bay. Whatever the cause, the extreme alcohol consumption comes with heavy consequences. Alaska has the highest rate of fatal firearms incidents in the nation (23.4 deaths per 100,000 citizens) and as many as 80% of the firearm fatalities are self-inflicted. As of July 2017, 3,040 children statewide were living out of the home, with 1,010 (33%) having been removed due to parental alcohol abuse. Not surprisingly, Alaska also had the highest rate of alcohol poisoning deaths in the country from 2010-2012, with an average of 4.7 deaths per 100,000 people.
Unfortunately, the challenges facing Alaskans don't end with alcohol. Though it may seem a world away, "The Last Frontier" hasn't been spared the devastating wave of prescription painkiller (opioid) abuse sweeping the rest of the country--a problem that stems from doctors over-prescribing the highly addictive drugs when, in many cases, Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. In 2018, Alaska providers wrote 44.9 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons-a staggering statistic.
Prescription painkillers (opioids) are so highly addictive in large part because they activate the powerful reward centers in the human brain. These drugs trigger the release of endorphins, (your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters.) Endorphins mask or interrupt your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure and happiness, which creates a short-lasting but extremely powerful sense of well-being. It's only human to love the feeling. And, when an opioid starts to wear off, it's in our human nature to crave the return of that wonderful sense that everything is perfect and as it should be. This is the first step on the path toward addiction, and it can happen even to people who think they're being vigilant.
It may seem like a few pills couldn't hurt, but this is at the root of why opioids are so incredibly dangerous. Just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a downward spiral into the throes of full-on dependency, and people living in extremely remote areas may be especially at risk. Opioids have laid waste to many rural communities, and because prescription painkillers often lead to heroin addiction (as heroin is cheaper than the pills, and usually far easier to obtain) the heroin problem has exploded as well.
In addition to alcohol and prescription drugs, marijuana, heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine are also widely abused in Alaska. A look at the numbers among young people gives us special cause for concern.
13% of high school students (grades 9-12) report drinking alcohol before they reached the age of 13. And, 14% of high school students report that they have binge-drunk (4 drinks or more within a couple of hours for women, or 5 drinks or more within a couple of hours for men.)
21% of Alaska adults report binge drinking, though this number is thought to be artificially low.
In Alaska, 42% of high school students (grades 9-12) report using marijuana. This is especially concerning when we consider the fact that marijuana is known to affect brain development in young people, and that it can also sometimes be a gateway to harder drugs.
4% of high school students (grades 9-12) report using cocaine at least once.
4% of Alaskan youth ages 12-17 report using prescription pain pills in a way not prescribed by a doctor.
Opioids are known to lead to heroin use and abuse, as heroin is cheaper and far easier to obtain. A study done by the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality (CBHSQ) at SAMHSA found that nearly 80% of heroin users had abused prescription opioids prior to turning to heroin.
3.7% of high school students in Alaska report that they've used methamphetamine at least once. It's worth noting that meth is often used in concert with other illicit drugs.
The good news is that "The Last Frontier" is not last in line when it comes to addiction treatment. There are a wide variety of options available; the hardest part is just admitting you need help. If you are ready to take the first, brave step, assistance is here, no matter where you live, urban or rural, near or far.
Alaska State Facts
Alaska Population: 624,992
Law Enforcement Officers in Alaska: 1,686
Alaska Prison Population: 4,400
Alaska Probation Population: 4,803
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 12
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Alaska
Cocaine: 220.7 kgs.
Heroin: 2.0 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 0.7 kgs.
Marijuana: 3.2 kgs.
Ecstasy: 6 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 48(DEA, state, and local)
Alaska Drug Situation: Due to Alaska's close proximity to the Pacific Rim and shared border with Canada, Alaska is both a transshipment point for controlled substances to the continental United States and a consumer state. Historically, drug trends documented in the other states are eventually documented in Alaska. This includes the growing threat of methamphetamine, Ecstasy, GHB and other "Predatory Drugs." Alaska has the highest per capita incident of alcoholism, rape, and suicide in the United States, partially attributable to the uses and abuse of controlled substances..
Cocaine in Alaska: There are many different cocaine trafficking organizations in Alaska. Some of the largest ones are predominantly Mexican and Dominican groups, however Eastern Europeans are also involved. East coast Albanian organized crime groups have recently begun to distribute cocaine into Alaska. Most cocaine appears to come into Alaska from the West Coast of the U.S. One cocaine smuggling organization in Alaska offered to sell one kilogram of cocaine for as high as $39,000. Cocaine and other drugs are distributed throughout the State mainly from Anchorage and Fairbanks, all the way to remote fishing villages and northern rural areas of Alaska.
Heroin in Alaska: Evidence of heroin in Alaska has declined due to much of the user population now illegally acquiring and using OxyContin. Opium continues to be transshipped through Alaska from the Far East/Pacific Rim countries.
Methamphetamine in Alaska: Alaska is experiencing an increase in the availability of crystal methamphetamine. Small toxic meth labs continue to be found throughout the state of Alaska. The pseudoephedrine reduction method is the most common method for manufacturing methamphetamine in Alaska. Methamphetamine availability seems to be increasing, both from local meth labs and from methamphetamine mailed or shipped into the state by various methods, mostly from the Western U.S. Intelligence indicates that methamphetamine distribution and addiction are in the rise in Alaska.
Predatory Drugs in Alaska: There is recent evidence that large quantities of GHB are being transshipped through Alaska from Thailand to various "lower 48" states. MDMA (methylene-dioxy-methamphetamine ), also known as Ecstasy, is a growing threat throughout Alaska. Prior to 1999, there were no reports or direct evidence of large quantities of MDMA in any form throughout Alaska however, in the recent years, MDMA seizures have increased significantly throughout the state. Raves continue to occur in Alaska, where the accompanying use of Predatory Drugs are most often found at these events. During late 2003 a female died in Anchorage, AK from an overdose of GHB. LSD remains available in Alaska, mostly in the college/university areas.
Marijuana in Alaska: Marijuana is the most prevalent and abused illegal drug in Alaska. It is very difficult for local law enforcement to estimate the extent of marijuana abuse in Alaska because less than 5% of the marijuana grown in Alaska is grown outdoors. This makes detection much more difficult. Recently, BC Bud marijuana from British Columbia, Canada has begun to make its way to Alaska along the Transcontinental Highway.
Other Drugs in Alaska: The diversion of various controlled substances regulated by prescription is growing in Alaska. Alaska is one of the top five purchasing states for five of the top twelve diverted pharmaceutical drugs, which include Fentanyl, D-Amphetamine, Oxycodone, Methadone and Meperidine. Benzodiazepine's such as Xanax, Valium and Ativan are also widely abused. Internet purchases of controlled pharmaceutical drugs are on the rise in Alaska.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been no Mobile Enforcement Team deployments in the State of Alaska.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There have been no Regional Enforcement Team deployments in the State of Alaska.