With the US focusing much of its efforts on drug enforcement and immigration policies on the southern border, Mexican cartels are shifting their focus. Instead of going after the overloaded drug market in the continental US, they are instead focused on The Final Frontier, Alaska. These largely isolated, deprived, and bored residents are the perfect people for their next addicts.
As first reported back on September 28th by the Courier-Journal, the infamous Sinaloa Cartel, the brainchild of “El Chapo” Joaquin Guzman, has been making big changes. They have been focused on sending their drugs to Alaska for a huge return. With fewer organizations sending drugs to the state, there is not only a little competition, but there is also a growing want for their supply, no matter the price.
Coming in through Juneau and Fairbanks, they are quickly dispersed far and wide across the state. From the tiny coastal islands that stretch towards Russia, all the way up to the Arctic Circle, nowhere is immune from their impact according to state and federal authorities. Iditarod dog sled race communities like Nome and Bethel had found themselves completely destroyed by the flood of illegal drugs. Their pipelines, just like Alaska’s famous oil ones, are never ending.
James Klugman, head of federal criminal prosecutions for Alaska’s U.S. Attorney’s Office claimed “All the drug dealers are aware they can make more money selling drugs in Alaska… 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. What keeps me up at night is the fact that fentanyl is killing our small, most vulnerable communities. The opioid crisis is attacking us, and we don’t have enough personnel to effectively combat it.”
Even the most remote of villages with 50 people or fewer are not immune from the sting of the cartels.
In 2021, the state saw the largest spike in overdose deaths, with a 75% jump in 2021 according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to CDC figures, this added up to the state growing from an overdose death rate of 20.2 to 35.6 per 100,000 residents. This isn’t a small change, especially in a state this large with less than 750k residents.
The Governor’s Advisory Council on Opioid Remediation declared that synthetic narcotics like fentanyl were reported in 75% of their 253 overdoses in 2021. Added up, and it would make sense why the cartel is suddenly declaring fentanyl to be a forbidden substance in their pipeline, especially for Alaska. With such a small but lucrative client list, it would be foolish to keep sending synthetic narcotics there. They need to keep their clients alive and hooked.
In response, the Courier-Journal sent just under two weeks in the state after studying the available cases for their overdose deaths. They spoke with lawmakers, law enforcement officials, and the parents left behind by these horrific drugs. One common theme with them was a love for outdoor activities like hunting, fishing, and hiking. With the vast amount of openness, the state is a natural draw for people who love these desolate and rough spaces.
These same spaces also make the state a prime candidate for heavy drug abuse. Law enforcement is fighting an uphill battle not just in manpower numbers, but also because it is so remote and vast. People are simply unable to get the help they need from their local authorities and instead are forced to see the addiction take over their communities.
For Cornelius Sims, a lieutenant with the Alaska State Troopers and supervisor of a statewide drug task force, this is a personal fight. “The opioid crisis has hit hard, and it’s hit close to me. I have had family members become addicted. I have lost close friends. I’ve seen very vibrant, positive, outgoing individuals from good upbringings go from that to living on the streets homeless, doing whatever they can to survive.”
Loss like this drives these officials to fight this uphill battle, but they aren’t afraid to fight against addiction. What they are afraid of is yet again being too late, or not being able to do enough. As these cartels adjust their reach, we, as the American people, need to adjust our focus. Alaska is too important to hand over to the cartels.