ANCHORAGE - The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is beefing up its presence in Alaska to crack down on the increasing flow of illicit drugs into the state and to curb manufacturing of illegal substances.
The DEA upgraded its Anchorage resident office to a district office in June, the first step in a long-term plan that includes upgrading a Fairbanks post and opening bureaus in Juneau and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough.
"We were unstaffed for a while, and we're stepping up to the plate on that," said Zoran Yankovich, who was promoted in June to assistant special agent in charge of the new office. "We're showing that we care about places in rural America."
The DEA is the premier agency for domestic enforcement of federal drug laws and has sole responsibility for coordinating and pursuing U.S. drug investigations abroad.
Yankovich, a 15-year veteran of the DEA, cited increased drug activity as a primary reason the agency is putting more resources in Alaska.
"Seizures have increased over the years," Yankovich said. "Most of the (illicit) drugs found here are imported except marijuana."
Drug trends in Alaska are no different from those in the Lower 48, "except Alaska is the end of the road," Yankovich said. "We're a consumer state."
Anchorage Police Patrol Captain Audie Holloway said he was glad to hear the DEA was expanding in Alaska.
"We certainly could use it," Holloway said. "We have a much bigger drug problem up here than people seem to realize."
Holloway said the DEA helps with investigations by offering equipment, expertise, strategies and sometimes, prosecution in federal court where sentences tend to be more severe than in state courts.
"Having the DEA take a firm stand on marijuana keeps this state from going overboard on being too lenient on our marijuana laws," he said.