Public health officials and local law enforcement are sounding the alarm over a wave of fentanyl that’s recently arrived in Kodiak — including a new form of the opioid called rainbow fentanyl.
Amy Butts is a public health nurse and team lead at the Kodiak Public Health Center. She said there’s been a worrying trend in local overdoses over the last three to four weeks.
“Kodiak is definitely seeing an increase in overdoses,” said Butts.
Butts says she doesn’t have up-to-date data on overdoses in Kodiak, but the Kodiak Police Department says it has also responded to an increase in calls about overdoses over that same time period, according to the department’s public information officer Francis de la Fuente.
De la Fuente says officers have seen a wave of blue pills hit the streets – and confirmed that at least one drug bust turned up rainbow fentanyl pills as well.
That last part is particularly worrying to Butts. Rainbow fentanyl hasn’t been confirmed yet by state officials in Alaska. But just last month, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration press release said the multi-colored fentanyl pills that resemble candy had turned up in 18 states. One pill can contain a deadly amount of the potent synthetic opioid fentanyl, which has Butts on high alert.
“They’re brightly colored pills, or they can look like chunks of sidewalk chalk. So, they can appear as something a kid would want. I have an 11-year-old and I can imagine him seeing these little things and thinking they’re like Sweet Tarts,” said Butts.
Butts said the ones that have turned up in Kodiak look like pills marked with a letter “M.”
When reached for comment, Alaska State Troopers did not confirm or deny the pills had arrived in Kodiak. Troopers Communications Director Austin McDaniel said via email, “If rainbow or multi-colored fentanyl is not already circulating in Alaska, it’s just a matter of time until it is.”
McDaniel also said that Alaskans should be concerned about all types of fentanyl circulating within the state – a sentiment echoed by Butts and de la Fuente.
Alaska’s fatality overdose rate spiked over the last year, according to the state’s Department of Health, which said fentanyl had driven the trend. Overdose deaths in the state rose from 146 in 2020 to 253 in 2021, according to the department.
De la Fuente said on-duty Kodiak police officers carry the lifesaving drug Narcan, which reverses the effects of an overdose. And Butts credits that drug – with preventing deaths in the most recent uptick in overdoses on the island – although, she says people should still seek out care after an overdose.
“It’s really important that you call 911 or you go to the nearest emergency room when you use it because that overdose can kick back in,” said Butts.
Anyone can pick up Narcan from the Kodiak Public Health Center – Butts says she’s also handing out opioid emergency kits, which come with Narcan, fentanyl test strips and CPR masks, to any interested businesses through the state initiative Project Gabe. Narcan is also available through the Kodiak Island Borough School District.