Alaska saw a significant increase in the number of overdose deaths attributed to fentanyl and other opioids in 2021, the most recent year on record. Deaths increased in the state by 75% over 2020 numbers, far exceeding the national average which is hovering around 14.8%. The rising deaths are being attributed to a significant push by the Sinaloa drug cartel to exploit the vulnerable state and its rural communities for profit.
— New York Post (@nypost) August 19, 2022
James Klugman, head of federal criminal prosecutions for Alaska’s U.S. Attorney’s Office told reporters with the Courier-Journal that his office is seeing spikes in drug use and overdose deaths in urban centers like Anchorage and Juneau, but the real concern is the number of deaths in small, rural villages that can have populations of 50 people or less.
Klugman explained that profits are driving the drug trade. Due to the remoteness of many parts of the state, drug dealers can double or triple prices and rake in huge profits while facing little law enforcement presence. The state lacks the resources to provide law enforcement capabilities full-time to much of the remote state.
“An amount of drugs that wouldn’t even move the needle in big cities like Los Angeles or New York can completely change the life of an entire community in Alaska,” Klugman said. The state identified a total of 260 overdose deaths in 2021, up from 160 the previous year.
In September 2021, a multi-agency investigation into drug trafficking networks between Mexico and Alaska resulted in the indictment and arrest of a man authorities believe was the kingpin of the operation. Miguel Baez Guevara, a U.S. citizen who was living in Mexico at the time of his indictment and arrest, is currently awaiting trial on 17 counts related to an operation to transport drugs directly to Alaska. The operation, dubbed “Operation Albondiga,” resulted in 23 arrests of individuals believed to be part of the trafficking ring.
The Sinaloa Cartel was formerly run by Juan “El Chapo” Guzman who is now serving a life sentence at a super-max prison in Colorado. In the wake of his arrest, the Sinaloa Cartel reorganized under the leadership of Ismael Zambada Garcia.
Fentanyl has been an increasing threat to communities nationwide in recent years. The deadly synthetic opioid is commonly smuggled from China to Mexico, then entering the U.S. where it is mixed with heroin and methamphetamines along with other drugs to increase the potency.
The bulk of fentanyl coming into the U.S. flows across the southern border due to lax law enforcement under the Biden administration. The State of Texas has seized hundreds of millions of doses of the dangerous drug in recent years through state enforcement of laws enacted in the absence of federal guidance.