More than a million pills of one type of opioid are reaching Alaska through the mail each year, federal law enforcement authorities said.
An operation by the Drug Enforcement Administration and other agencies turned up a previously undocumented spread of tramadol, Alaska Public Media reported.
About 100,000 tramadol pills arrive in Alaska every month, according to officials, who said pharmaceutical packages of the flat, white disks resembling breath mints are being mailed to rural communities.
“Our intelligence has always told us that tramadol is a large problem for the entire state of Alaska,” said Keith Weis, DEA special agent in charge. “It’s an underlying drug that’s being shipped in at will, especially via mail.”
The operation launched from Anchorage seized 204 packages containing 48,545 illicit or unlawfully diverted opioid pills, including 44,580 tramadol pills. The DEA operation included bringing a plane to Alaska so personnel could fly to 35 communities, officials said.
"It was dispersed over the whole state," Weis said. "It was widespread, which tells us it's out there and pretty deeply seeded in all the communities."
The Schedule IV drug provides a mild narcotic high but is less tightly regulated than stronger opioid painkillers such as oxycodone. Tramadol can mitigate withdrawal symptoms for heavier opioid or heroin users. Higher doses can cause seizures and depressed breathing and is especially dangerous if used in combination with other drugs, officials said.
Tramadol is widely used in veterinary care and it is relatively easy to obtain a prescription and legally order online for mail shipment, officials said.