What do drugs in Alaska have to do with President Trump's 'border crisis'?

Image Credit: 401(K) 2012/ Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0/Steve Buissinne/MGN

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — In Tuesday’s prime time address, President Trump claimed a surge in drug distribution from Mexico into the U.S. as one reason to justify a border wall. While Alaska is geographically far-removed from issues at the southern border, the state has for years been grappling with the impact of illegal drugs.

So would a wall across the southern border have any impact on the high rates of drug addiction in Alaska?

Many federal agencies were not available to comment due to the shutdown, but recent reports by Alaska State Troopers and the Drug Enforcement Agency shed some light on how and why drugs make it from Mexico to Alaska.

Pres. Trump began his speech with a broad-based appeal: "All Americans are hurt by uncontrolled, illegal migration."

Some may hesitate to call the situation uncontrolled. According to data from the U.S. Border Patrol — the federal agency charged with detecting and preventing illegal immigration — 1,676,438 illegal immigrants were apprehended in fiscal year 2000, down to 396,579 in 2018 — a nearly 77 percent decrease in apprehensions at the southern border.

But just because apprehensions have drastically decreased doesn't mean that drug trafficking has followed suit.

The DEA's 2017 National Drug Threat Assessment shows the vast reach of six major Mexican transnational criminal organizations, with influence from Florida all the way to Washington State.

The arms of those organizations aren’t quite long enough to reach as far north as Alaska, but somehow, their drugs still find a way to wreak havoc here.

According to the AST Statewide Drug Enforcement Unit’s Annual Drug Report for 2017, “The number of methamphetamine labs encountered in recent years in Alaska is statistically null. However, cheap methamphetamine manufactured in 'super labs' in Mexico continues to be imported into the state of Alaska."

The report also says fentanyl is coming to Alaska from Mexico – which, when mixed with heroin, can have deadly consequences for unsuspecting users.

Anchorage-based immigration attorney, MacArthur Fellow, and former West Point law professor Margaret Stock says that as far as Alaska is concerned, drug distribution and availability is more a reflection of internal demand than it is of an alleged border crisis.

"I don't think, as far as Alaska is concerned, it has much of anything to do with immigration,” Stock said. “I think it's got to do with the demand from some Alaskans to use the drugs, and that demand is being met by entrepreneurs who, you know, they know it's illegal but they figure out ways to get them in because they're going to make a lot of money."

The President claimed Tuesday the majority of drugs are coming from south of the border, saying "Our southern border is a pipeline for vast quantities of illegal drugs, including meth, heroin, cocaine, and fentanyl.”

Stock says the southern border is only one part of a larger puzzle — that it’s U.S.-based distributors who are responsible for hard drugs reaching Alaska.

"Definitely in Alaska, most of them are being brought in by people who are American citizens, people who are perfectly legal, but they've decided they're going to make a living profiting off drugs," Stock said.

AST says Alaska's secluded remoteness, geographical vastness, and sparse law enforcement resources continue to be factors inhibiting the detection of illicit drug trafficking.