Quinhagak responds to a series of apparent heroin overdoses

Aug 17, 2016

Four overdoses, including one fatal, reported in Quinhagak this week, and authorities believe heroin is to blame.

The village of Quinhagak on the Bering Sea Coast has seen four overdoses this weekend.
Credit Adrian Wagner / KYUK

KYUK, Bethel: One of the men from Quinhagak’s four apparent heroin overdoses earlier this week has returned to the village. The other man has not yet returned. The third person, a woman, is dead. The fourth person was treated on site.

Earlier reports stated three overdoses, but as of Wednesday afternoon, Trooper spokesman Tim DeSpain says four overdoses happened within the same timeframe.

Patrick Cleveland, Quinhagak Tribal Administrator, says one right after the other, three people apparently overdosed on heroin Monday evening.

“The first person that was found was unresponsive,” Cleveland said.

“Not breathing, lips had turned blue, and had to be revived with CPR.”

A medevac picked up the man, and before the aircraft could land in Bethel, another overdose was called in. When the medevac brought the second man to Bethel, word of the third overdose reached them, but that person was already dead.

“The young lady that passed, I think she was just out of high school, and the two men are late 20s, early 30s,” said Cleveland.

DeSpain says the deceased was 19 years old. Cleveland says her body has been taken to Anchorage for autopsy.

The fourth person, DeSpain says was treated in the village and not flown out. When the fourth overdose occurred hasn’t been released.

Cleveland says that in the 700-person village, no one is unaffected by the tragedy.

“I mean it pretty much shocked the whole community,” Cleveland said.

He says the overdoses have ignited anger at the drug dealers and a drive for change.

Michelle Matthew with the City of Quinhagak is organizing a community meeting for 5 p.m. today at the school gym to discuss the issue of drugs in the community and what people can do about it. Her expectations for the gathering run high.

“I hope people get a sense of hope and fearlessness, because that’s what’s driving these drugs to run amok in our villages,” she said. “Because people are afraid to speak up, and now we are.”

Matthew says the tribe is discussing placing extra security measures at its tribally-owned airport, something that she says has been brought up in the past.

Cleveland says the WAANT Trooper division - the Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics Team - is in town investigating the overdoses, and a team from Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation is expected to arrive today to debrief first responders and families.

Reach the author annarose@kyuk.org.