Anchorage officials look into connections between drug addiction and property crime

Prescribing of oxycodone and other opioid pain pills rose sharply after 2000.
(Photo by John Moore, Getty Images)

Officials in Anchorage want to know if drug addiction is driving a rise in property crime.

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At a meeting of the Assembly’s public safety committee, the heads of the police and fire departments shared data on crime and drug trends across the municipality. Members of the Assembly say they’re hearing more complaints from constituents about shop-lifting, break-ins and car theft. Committee chair Eric Croft suspects that an uptick in opioid and synthetic cannabinoids like Spice may be playing a role.

“Is this epidemic fueling some of the property crime and car thefts that we’re seeing? I don’t know the answer, but I’d like to get to it,” Croft said.

The city has seen an uptick in both both Spice and opioid overdoses the last few weeks. Though nowhere near levels of the “Spice crisis” in 2015, medics treated more than 60 people for suspected cannabinoid overdoses in June. Neither police nor fire department officials, who are in charge of ambulance crews, can say what’s prompting the resurgence.

There’s also a new spike in opioid overdoses. Since April, the number of times paramedics treated patients with the over-dose reversing drug Nalaxone has shot upwards, nearly doubling over recent years — up to five per day. Public safety officials think the rise might be because of the synthetic opioid Fentanyl hitting Anchorage, but can’t say definitively.

Anchorage Police Chief Justin Doll said the department doesn’t have conclusive proof there’s a connection between drugs and property crime. But he said violations like car thefts are overwhelmingly connected to other illegal behavior.

“Typically what we’re seeing is they’re being used to commit other crimes, and just as a means of transport to and from other crimes,” Doll said.

APD said so far this year they’ve recovered 92 percent of all the vehicles reported stolen, but that for the second year in a row the level of thefts is surging.

No policy solutions were offered at Wednesday’s meeting. Instead, Assembly members are hoping to get a more accurate diagnosis of how addiction might be affecting crime and figure out a course of action from there.

Chief Doll said his department is in the process of deciding on the most effective way to deploy the newly expanded force, which has seen a wave or new hires from recent police academies.