Dunleavy speaks out as fentanyl crisis intensifies in Alaska

An overdose rescue kit that Capital City Fire & Rescue distributes to people when they get a 911 call for an overdose in Juneau, Alaska on April 15, 2022. (Photo by Lyndsey Brollini/KTOO)

Overdose deaths increased more than 70% in Alaska last year. The state’s health department says that’s because of the highly toxic synthetic opioid fentanyl. It’s been found mixed with heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine.

At a news conference Tuesday, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said the problem is only intensifying. The state’s High Intensity Drug Traffic Area task force seized twice as much fentanyl in the last three months than they did in all of 2021.

“It’s incredibly deadly at an incredibly small dose,” Dunleavy said. “Parents, kids and all Alaskans must understand this poison— and that’s what it is — is in our state in many different forms.”

Dunleavy said he will work with the state Legislature to increase the punishment for drug trafficking and told drug dealers they’re in for a “rude awakening.”

Dr. Tom Quimby joined the governor for the news conference. He directs the Emergency Department at Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, a region hard-hit by overdoses.

“What I see happening every day in our emergency department is that this problem knows no bounds,” he said. “It crosses all levels of our society. I see people in all socioeconomic classes, all ages, all religions, all races, living in all geographic regions, all political parties who are affected by this.”

Sandy Snodgrass’s 22-year-old son died of a drug overdose last fall. She said she would do everything in her power to spare another parent from surviving the death of a child.

“There are many parents that I know personally in this room. It is too late to save their children. But they’re here today to save your children,” she said. “Please help us: carry Narcan. Talk to your children tonight about fentanyl.”

Narcan is a brand of the overdose reversing drug naloxone. The state just received 11,000 more doses that it will give away for free in kits that include fentanyl test strips.

Medication-assisted treatment is also available in Alaska to help people quit using opioids.

Nearly 250 Alaskans died of drug overdoses last year. Six of every ten drug overdoses in Alaska involved fentanyl.

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