The Juneau Police Department on Thursday released its drug interdiction figures for 2013, painting a clearer picture of the latest trends in drug abuse and addiction troubling the capital city.
The numbers show the amount of heroin seized decreased slightly after it “skyrocketed” in 2012, while the amount of oxycontin and methamphetamine seized by the department increased compared to the previous year. In all, the JPD seized nearly $2 million in illegal narcotics.
JPD Lt. Kris Sell said she believes oxycontin is making a “comeback” among addicts in Juneau, given the department seized more pills in 2013 (969) than at its peak usage in 2010-2011 (around 927 pills for each of those years).
“It is making a comeback, and that’s bad news for us,” she said in a phone interview. “It seemed to have dipped in response to manufacturer’s changes, but now oxys are back on the scene.”
JPD is required to record their drug interdiction statistics and provide it to the Alaska Department of Public Safety. The DPS compiles such data from all local police departments and troopers in the state and presents it to the Legislature. The legislative session begins Tuesday.
Sell, who oversees the JPD Drug Enforcement Unit, said the number of interceptions of illegal drugs in Juneau is a good indicator, or “test sample,” of what kind of controlled substances are being abused in the community, as well as how widespread the problem is.
“Just by the odds, the more that a drug’s in the community, the more of it we’re seizing,” she said.
Oxycontin, a prescription pain killer that contains opiates and considered a controlled substances, peaked in usage in Juneau around 2010 but tapered off after that when manufacturers added chemicals to the pills that deactivated the active narcotic when it was crushed, Sell said. She said that’s reflected in the drastic drop in the numbers of pills seized by JPD from 2011 (927 pills) to 2012 (274 pills).
That change in the pill’s make-up helped prevent abuse, but consequently drug users turned to heroin to get high, Sell said. JPD seized 78 grams of heroin in 2011 and 893 grams in 2012, a tenfold increase, the numbers show. In 2013, that number dipped down to 592 grams, the newly released figures show.
“Heroin use basically exploded between ‘11 and ‘12, and we were shocked by how popular heroin got,” Sell said, “and it seemed to be that there were a lot of oxy users moving to heroin because it was cheaper and more accessible. It’s now moving back to oxy. Oxy had dropped but we are now up over the 2011 numbers, so there’s a lot of opiate abuse out there.”
Sell said the oxycontin pills they are seizing now have modified formulas, where the narcotic ingredients are still active when crushed, including such pills from Canada, which Sell described as “chemically different” than U.S. pills.
“More of those than we’ve ever seen before,” she said. “Not a huge amount but definitely more than we’ve seen before.”
Sell said she was “kind of surprised” to see an increase of methamphetamine seizures — JPD seized 760 grams in 2013 as compared to almost half that amount, 416 grams, the year prior. Only 39 grams were collected in 2011.
“I got the feeling just from being on calls and around calls that we were up with meth, but we’re definitely trending up with meth,” Sell said. “So we’re also seeing a rise in that.”
In 2013, JPD also seized 32 grams of synthetic marijuana known as “Spice.” That amount may not sound like much, but Sell said it has resulted in the most severe medical reactions in Juneau users, including hallucinations and aggressive behavior.
“It’s extremely scary stuff,” she said, adding that the dosage amount and chemical composition of Spice varies and is uncontrolled.
JPD in 2013 also began tracking the number of drug-related overdoses. There were nine such medical calls in 2013, and six in 2012.
Of the 137 narcotics cases opened by the JPD in 2013, 41 people were charged with a total of 65 crimes. That’s compared to 37 charged in 2012 and 38 people charged in 2011, reflecting a general upward trend.
Sell said JPD also worked with federal partners to intercept drugs from Washington en route to Juneau. Those investigations led to 177 grams of heroin, worth $177,000, and 290 grams of meth, worth $43,500, being seized prior to shipping to Juneau. Those amounts are not including in the totals from Juneau.
Here’s the breakdown of the amounts of illegal drugs seized in Juneau in 2013, and their corresponding street value, as provided by the JPD:
Marijuana, 18,204.46 grams, $773,585
Marijuana plants, 119, $238,000
Hashish, 25 grams, $2,500
Oxycodone, 969.5 pills, $156,640
Hydrocodone/Methadone/Vicodin/Suboxone, 233.5 pills, $14,300
Heroin, 592 grams, $592,000
Cocaine, 130.8 grams, $22,670
Methamphetamine, 760.15 grams, $124,017
Clonazepam/Lorazepam, 241.5 pills, $2,415
Fentanyl, 250 micrograms, $500
LSD, 2 blotter tabs, $50
MDMA/“Molly”, 106 tabs, $3,180
Spice, 32 grams, $17,250
Total value of drugs seized: $1,947,107
Total cash seized: $50,325