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Bristol Bay is getting a drug investigator

Low tide at Dillingham harbor
Courtesy of Mark McKeown
Low tide at Dillingham harbor

The Department of Public Safety plans to station a full-time drug officer in Bristol Bay. The investigator will begin either this spring or early this summer.

The department’s commissioner James Cockrell said the investigator, an Alaska State Trooper, will focus on reducing the flow of illegal drugs like fentanyl throughout the region.

“Essentially that person will be focused on enforcing the drug laws in the Bristol Bay region and working with our task force around the state,” he said.

As part of a January 25 press conference's media kit, the U.S. Department of Justice stated that law enforcement had seized enough fentanyl entering Bristol Bay to kill the entire region from February 2022 to July 2023. The press release listed individuals charged in connection to a major drug ring operating in Alaska. Cockrell said that ten arrests in the investigation were made in Dillingham in January.

Fentanyl has contributed to rising overdose deaths statewide. The Alaska Department of Health attributed nine overdose deaths to fentanyl in 2018. By 2022, the department found 151 overdose deaths linked to the drug, more than heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine mortalities.

Cockrell said that illegal drugs move from Anchorage to Dillingham before traveling to smaller communities in the region.

He said the investigator will work with other troopers and federal and local law enforcement, as well as coordinate with the Alaska Wildlife Troopers to curb drug trafficking on commercial fishing boats in the summer.

“We know that a lot of drugs are going into the Dillingham area through the fishing fleet and through air travel,” he said. “[Wildlife Troopers] are not only [going to] be focusing on enforcing the fisheries. They're also going to look for potential drugs either on the vessels or if we get tips like [at] Clark's Point or Ekuk Beach or some of the other areas that they'll be patrolling.”

The region has not had a drug investigator since 2012. Cockrell said that the position has remained open in part due to the staffing shortages the Troopers have faced in recent years.

The decision to fill the vacancy came after Cockrell traveled to Dillingham in November along with the then interim Head of the Village Public Safety Officer Program Joel Ward. They heard from community members about policing concerns in the region, including the influx of drugs.

Cockrell said that after the visit, he and Ward met with the director of the Alaska State Troopers, Maurice Hughes, and the director of the Trooper’s drug enforcement unit, Cornelius Sims, and decided to fill the role.

Cockrell said that the department has secured housing for the investigator and is in the hiring process.

 Get in touch with the author at or 907-842-2200.

Christina McDermott began reporting for KDLG, Dillingham’s NPR member station, in March 2023. Previously, she worked with KCBX News in San Luis Obispo, California, where she focused on local news and cultural stories. She’s passionate about producing evocative, sound-rich work that informs and connects the public.
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