Alaska’s percentage increase in drug overdose deaths was the highest of any state in the U.S. last year, from 146 deaths in 2020 to 254 in 2021 — a nearly 73 percent jump. Those numbers track with a continuing trend of increasing overdose deaths since 2018, according to a recent report from the Alaska Department of Health.
The spike includes an increase in deaths related to fentanyl — a synthetic opioid that is much more potent than other narcotics like morphine, and is often used in combination with other substances like heroin. Fentanyl was involved in almost three out of four opioid overdose deaths last year, according to the statewide report.
Shari Conner is project coordinator at Change 4 the Kenai, a coalition working to prevent substance abuse on the Kenai Peninsula.
"During the height of COVID, we had a cluster of fentanyl-suspected overdoses," she said.