Heroin laced with fentanyl in Bristol Bay, law enforcement says

Heroin powder
Heroin powder. (Photo courtesy Drug Enforcement Administration)

Last month in Quinahagak four people overdosed — one of them, a young woman, fatally — after using heroin that contained a large amount of fentanyl.

The heroin supply in other parts of Western Alaska is likely laced with the powerful, often deadly, added drug, and they’re putting the word out that things could soon get worse in the region, authorities said.

“Oh absolutely. I have no doubts at this point,” Alaska State Troopers Sgt. Luis Nieves said Monday.

“We’re waiting on lab results to confirm what we believe is that the heroin that’s coming into this area is the same heroin that’s being distributed around the state, especially throughout Western Alaska,” Nieves said “It’s all coming from the same source, which is in Anchorage.”

Quinhagak Native Village vice president Mary Hill spoke with KDLG on Aug. 19, just days after a series of overdoses rocked the village.

The state crime lab put out the warning after the overdoses in Quinahagak that there was more fentanyl in the sampled drugs than heroin.

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration,the prescription pain killer “is the most potent opioid available for use in medical treatment – 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine and 30 to 50 times more potent than heroin. Fentanyl is potentially lethal, even at very low levels.”

That means a user’s regular dose, perhaps unbeknownst to them, can be deadly.

“This is probably one of the most dangerous drugs ever to hit this state,” Nieves said. “There are many dangerous drugs that are dangerous, alcohol, meth, but heroin right now with this fentanyl, it’s a hazard to everyone.”

He explained how the residue can be absorbed through the skin, leaving non-users, police, and others vulnerable to exposure.

Suppliers are cutting the heroin with fentanyl, Nieves said, to extend the supply, and extend the high.

“Remember, heroin addicts are doing what they call ‘chasing the dragon,’which is they’re trying to replicate that very first experience with heroin. That’s why they have to increase their dosages over time,” Nieves said. “So as they’re chasing this dragon, they’re always looking for the next stronger supplement. The fentanyl is meeting that demand, but it’s also killing people.”

Speaking broadly, Nieves alluded to information that enforcement has received suggesting significant amounts of heroin are inbound to the region soon.

He suspects suppliers are targeting recent fishing income and the Bristol Bay Native Corporation shareholder dividend checks scheduled to be paid out Friday.

“These wolves that prey on innocent people know that there’s going to be plenty of money in the Bristol Bay region,” Nieves said. “Everyone here has been working their tails off fishing, and now they’re getting ready to get their checks and their dividends, and they are easy prey. People have put Dillingham on the map but they put it on the map for a negative reason: it’s a great place to sell this type of product because people here have the money to pay for it.”

A recent EMS call in Dillingham Nieves responded to as backup was likely a fentanyl-related overdose, he said. The person was hallucinating and displaying other strange behavior not normally associated with heroin alone. Nieves believes that person would have died had emergency room care not been so close, a luxury not afforded most living outside of the city.

“I think our ER is going to start filling up with these people. Especially now that these checks are going to be here, and these predators from Anchorage are going to be here,” Nieves said. “I would not be surprised if there are locals who are going to Anchorage right now to pick this product up and bring it here. If they can hear me, well, shame on them, and know that we’re going to be looking for you, and we’re going to doing everything we can to stop you from bringing this stuff into our community.”

Solutions to stopping the drugs trafficked to the region may be few, but local authorities work closely with the Anchorage-based Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics Team. Police and troopers say that is working to complicate shipments from the main hub, but Nieves believes the state should prioritize putting a WAANT investigator back in the region.

Beyond police work to intercept the supply, he has good advice for parents and said he’s available to speak with schools, parents, and other groups anytime. The veteran law enforcement officer believes beating heroin will be a battle fought and won “one household at a time.”

KDLG - Dillingham

KDLG is our partner station in Dillingham. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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