Alaska News

After record fentanyl deaths, Alaska launches ‘One Pill Can Kill’ campaign

Alaska officials on Monday unveiled a new statewide education campaign on the dangers of fentanyl in the wake of a record increase in overdose deaths.

The campaign, called “One Pill Can Kill,” will aim to educate Alaskans about the dangers posed by even a single dose of fentanyl, which the Drug Enforcement Administration says has infiltrated supplies of almost all illicit drugs. At a press conference held at the state crime lab in Anchorage on Monday, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan called the campaign an “all-hands-on-deck effort to save Alaskan lives.”

The press conference included Sullivan, Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Alaska Attorney General Treg Taylor and was attended by many of the state’s cabinet of commissioners, as well as law enforcement officials and bereaved parents.

The DEA has already been pushing the “One Pill Can Kill” message nationally. Alaska’s adoption of the effort will include a social media and in-school education campaign, as well as health department efforts to fund treatment, prevention, harm reduction and recovery work across the state, officials said. At the press conference, Dunleavy also pushed for House Bill 66, a bill that would ramp up penalties for crimes related to drugs, including charging people who supply drugs in a fatal overdose with second-degree murder rather than manslaughter.

“If your activity has baked into it the death of innocent Alaskans, you need to be prepared to pay the consequences,” he said. “I’d ask our Legislature ... to move this fentanyl bill, get this passed.”

[Alaska Senate panel unveils crime package with tougher drug penalties and grand jury changes]

The state saw 342 fatal overdoses in 2023, representing a nearly 40% increase compared to the previous year. That was the highest year-to-year increase in the country. About three-fourths of the deaths were due to fentanyl, a cheap, potent synthetic opioid that has in recent years replaced heroin as the state’s deadliest drug.


Officials described the steep increase as reflecting national trends. But both Dunleavy and Sullivan blamed what they described as an “open border” with Mexico as stoking the flow of drugs into the state.

The increase in fentanyl coming into Alaska is driven by the premium dealers can sell it for here, said Cornelius Sims, a captain with the Alaska State Troopers and commander of the Statewide Drug Enforcement Unit: The same pill that might cost $10 on the street in Arizona can be resold for up to $250 in rural Alaska, he said. In 2023, law enforcement seized more than 83 kilograms of fentanyl in Alaska, Sims said.

Some of the “One Pill Can Kill” effort will be funded by money the state expects to receive from class-action lawsuits related to the role of pharmaceutical companies and drugstore chains such as CVS in fomenting the opioid crisis. Alaska is set to receive $52 million in its share of national opioid settlement money, to be paid out over the next 18 years, said Heidi Hedberg, the commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health. An annual $3.3 million in funding will go to communities for treatment, harm reduction, prevention and recovery work, Hedberg said.

Sandy Snodgrass, whose son Bruce died in 2022 of a fentanyl overdose, spoke at the press conference. Her son, she said, never got the education about the dangers of fentanyl before he died — in sight of a fast-food restaurant and a bank — on DeBarr Road. Since his death, she’s traveled the state and the country advocating for legislation on fentanyl, which she said would add “powerful tools” to combat the drug.

The goal, she said, is that Alaskans understand there’s no unprescribed pill or illicit drug that can be trusted as safe.

[Previously: 2023 was Alaska’s deadliest year for opioid overdoses — and the state saw the highest increase in deaths in the nation]

Michelle Theriault Boots

Michelle Theriault Boots is a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. She focuses on in-depth stories about the intersection of public policy and Alaskans' lives. Before joining the ADN in 2012, she worked at daily newspapers up and down the West Coast and earned a master's degree from the University of Oregon.