Halting Alaska's New Heroin Epidemic

By chillinwill · Jul 2, 2009 ·
  1. chillinwill
    Right now, Anchorage police call it their number one concern: heroin. Suddenly officers are noticing a large number of Anchorage teens and 20-somethings overdosing and dying from this cheap morphine-like high.

    "You start it with the poppy plant. You scrape it off and that's really step one. The gum gets made into heroin. Heroin is morphine." That is how Alaska Drug Enforcement Agency Assistant Special Agent in Charge Harvey Goehring describes heroin.

    Municipality police are alarmed Anchorage's growing trend suddenly means large numbers of young people are seeking the drug.

    Goehring says, "Heroin is more prevalent on the street. You have more ODs at the hospital. You have deaths due to heroin overdoses."

    Heroin is killing and hurting young Alaskans at a rate APD is now classifying their number one concern

    "We're putting that in line with what the PD says," Goehring says. "And that is significant. Why, specifically, is hard to put your finger on."

    Goehring says Alaska's problem starts in Mexico.

    "And you think well how does Mexico get to Alaska so quickly. It's a zillion miles. But the reality it's not. You can get on a plane right now and establish sources of supply," Goehring says.

    A DEA theory is the Mexican Government's drug war means dealers are turning from the usually smuggled drugs like cocaine, to heroin, because it is easier to smuggle.

    "Boarders are tighter now," Goehring says. "You don't have to smuggle in as much heroin as you do cocaine to make the same amount of profit."

    That smuggling seems to be leading to the scene becoming sadly common in area emergency rooms. The drugs come in from Mexico, ending up in LA, Seattle or Portland. Someone in the Alaska drug scene gets a hold of them, and suddenly young Alaskans are overdosing on Mexican heroin.

    In 2006 the DEA seized 0.5 pounds of Heroin intended for Alaska. By 2007, that number had jumped to 6.3 pounds. Last year: 14.1 pounds.

    Goehring says, "When you go from half a pound to 14 pounds in three years, that is a significant jump."

    To combat those numbers a task force made up of federal, state, and local agencies is constantly working. It is almost identical to the task force responsible for bringing down the Ranes and Shine international marijuana trafficking ring.

    The task force is specifically made up of the DEA, Internal Revenue Service, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the US Postal Service, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. On state and local levels: Troopers, APD, airport police, and other local law enforcement agencies.

    The task force most recently brought down a Mexican trafficker trying to smuggle 10 heroin pounds into Alaska.

    "I think it's successful because we arrested the Mexican drug trafficking members. We also stopped 10 pounds of heroin from getting into Alaska," Goehring says.

    At the same time that means large heroin quantities are coming into the 49th state. With Mexico's drug war future highly uncertain, it appears Alaska's ability to halt heroin, right now, remains just as unknown.

    Matthew Simon
    Updated: 06/27/2009 05:45:25 PM AKDT

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