Mountainous Alaskan landscape. Does Alaska have a drug problem?

Does Alaska Have a Drug Problem?

Fact Checked and Peer Reviewed

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Alaskan law enforcement and the behavioral health community believe that Alaska has a multi-faceted drug use problem.

It is thought to be especially prevalent due to its unique position, separated from the lower 48, and due to its shared border with Canada. This makes Alaska a hotspot for cocaine and meth distribution. 

A report commissioned by Alaskan officials showed that while drug use in Alaska mirrors similar drug-use patterns in the United States, Alaskans average among the highest (per capita) users of controlled substances. Additionally, they have a high rate of alcohol use disorder and suicide in comparison to other states in the US. 

Perhaps most astonishing, a 2019 report, conducted by the State of Alaska about consumption and consequences, found that nine out of the ten leading causes of deaths in Alaska can be associated with substance misuse.

Key facts about Alaska drug use 

Types of substances used in Alaska

  • Alaskans were found to commonly use multiple substances including alcohol, cocaine, heroin, marijuana, methamphetamines, and prescription medications. 

Alcohol

  • Alcohol is the most commonly misused drug in Alaska, accounting for nearly 21 percent of deaths in 2015.
  • Alcohol consumption is consistently greater than the rest of the U.S, with spirits being consumed at 1.5 times higher than the national average.
  • Alaskans aged 18-25 reported significantly higher prevalence of alcohol dependency, binge drinking, and had an unmet need for alcohol addiction treatment than other age groups.
  • Between 2012-2016, 1 in 3 motor vehicle crashes were alcohol-related.

Illicit drug use

  • During the period 2016-2017, 21,000 Alaskans aged 12 or older used illicit drugs in the previous month. Among that drug use, 14,000 used cocaine; 5,000 used methamphetamines, and 3,000 admitted to using heroin.
  • Approximately 28,000 Alaskans used pain relievers for non-medical reasons, including 4,000 people who were classified as having a pain reliever use disorder. 
  • Illicit drug use in Alaska is higher than in the rest of the U.S (3.7 percent and 2.8 percent respectively).
  • Regions with the highest rates of drug-induced deaths were found in Anchorage, Mat-Su, Juneau, and Kenai Peninsula.

Teen drug use

  • The highest percentage of illicit drug use by age group was among young adults aged 18-25, accounting for 7.2 percent of Alaskans.
  • Teenagers account for 2.4 percent of illicit drug use in Alaska.

Marijuana use

  • Recreational use of marijuana is legal in Alaska and has been since 2015. Marijuana use is higher in Alaska than in the U.S as a whole (9.2 percent and 14.5 percent retrospectively).
  • The highest use of marijuana by age group was among young adults aged 18-25, accounting for nearly 40 percent of marijuana use in Alaska.

Stimulants

  • Between 2005-2015, fatal overdoses involving stimulants increased over 300 percent, most of which were attributed to methamphetamines .
  • Meth-related overdoses have quadrupled in less than a decade.
  • The rise of meth-related casualties is thought to be related to their use with other drugs. 
  • Between 2008-2016, the fatality rate increased from 1.4-5.8 deaths per 100,000 residents, according to public health officials.

Opioids

  • By 2012, the rate of overdose deaths involving prescription opioids was double the national average.
  • Use of heroin has risen in Alaska at around the same rates as in the U.S. However, between 2009-2015 deaths related to heroin use quadrupled.
  • In 2017, Alaska was the third state to declare a public health emergency from opioids
  • 74 percent of overdose deaths in Alaska involved an opioid, with 38 percent involving heroin.

Help with addiction treatment in Alaska

Workit Health offers telehealth treatment for drug and alcohol use in Alaska. We can provide medication and online therapy for addiction from the comfort of your own home, via smartphone, laptop, or computer.

Olivia Pennelle is a writer, journalist, and recovery activist. Her work has appeared in STAT News, Insider, Filter Magazine, Ravishly, The Temper, and Shondaland. She is the founder of popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen. She lives near Portland, Oregon. Follow her on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter

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