Kodiak fights drug 'epidemic'

Megan Edge

Millions of dollars' worth of high-grade heroin and methamphetamine have been confiscated on the island of Kodiak in the last year, symptoms of what lifelong resident and Alaska State Trooper Sgt. Eric Olsen says is an "epidemic."

"It's scary," said Olsen. "This is my hometown, and I have never seen anything like it. I am especially worried for our children."

Addicts can't be stereotyped, Olsen said. People involved in the Kodiak drug trade, from dealers to users, come from a variety of demographics.

In the last year, Olsen estimates that the Kodiak Police Department has seized more than $3 million in narcotics. Alaska State Troopers have confiscated $273,850 in high-priced drugs: 104.5 grams of meth, 62.8 grams of heroin, 37 grams of cocaine and 9 grams of crack cocaine, he said.

"Those are just troopers patrolling, writing traffic tickets, routine things," Olsen said. "That doesn't include drug enforcement (or) investigators."

Drug dealers seem to target the Gulf of Alaska island of 6,338 residents because of the large profit on high-priced narcotics.

Olsen said that 1 gram of black tar heroin has a street value of $500 per gram, brown heroin goes for $750 per gram, methamphetamine sells for $200 for one-tenth of a gram and prescription drugs such as Oxycontin sell for $100 per pill.

These prices far exceed the street value in cities like Anchorage, he said.

"The street value could be very appealing to dealers," said Kodiak Police Chief Ronda Wallace. "They can make so much money here."

Olsen suspects the drugs are being imported from other countries -- not cooked on the island -- arriving on Kodiak by mail, plane and on some of the 700-plus boats docking in the harbor daily.

Nailing down who is bringing drugs ashore is a challenge.

Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Grant DeVuyst said his branch of the military "hasn't seen an uptick in maritime law enforcement for narcotics" in that region. Although drug enforcement is a part of its job in Alaska, it's not the Coast Guard's main responsibility -- the fishing industry is.

To Wallace and Olsen, though, the problem isn't just drugs on the island. More addicts have few treatment options.

"It used to be years ago there was quite a bit of help that could be offered to people that got into trouble with alcohol and drugs, but I think the money dried up, and that is part of the issue or at least (that's) the feeling I have gotten," Wallace said.

Wallace and Olsen agreed that drug abuse is also the root of other crimes including domestic violence, sexual assault, theft, robbery and criminal mischief.

Twenty-one days into the start of the year, Kodiak police seized $120,000 in methamphetamine, heroin, crack and cocaine. At the time, Wallace told Alaska Dispatch it was the largest drug bust she had seen in two decades on the job and the first time Kodiak police had seized Afghan brown heroin on the island.

That record only lasted a few weeks. In April, Kodiak police made the largest bust in department history when $2.2 million in meth and heroin (25.3 ounces of methamphetamine and 1.8 ounces of high-grade heroin) was confiscated from Eric R. McDaniel's hotel room.

Then in early May, three Kodiak residents were arrested for kidnapping, theft, robbery, assault and drug charges after they allegedly retaliated against a 21-year-old who had stolen money from them.

Wallace and Olsen said law enforcement is cracking down on drug crimes, but the effort to end the deadly criminal cycle involves the entire community.

This past week, Olsen said, a group of concerned citizens met to discuss the issue, drawing state and municipal employees to city health care officials and social workers. He said it was "refreshing to see" so many people trying to help.

Olsen is compiling new drug abuse numbers that he said "will blow the public's mind." He's also trying to boost drug prevention efforts by educating the public and doing more outreach in schools.

"We have to stop that cycle somewhere, and odds are it won't start with current users," Olsen said. "It will start with the children.

"But we also have to help current users combat their problems through a treatment center. This problem has the attention of our town, and we are ready to start fighting back."

Reach Megan Edge at megan@alaska dispatch.com.