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Episode 95: Blindsided by Heroin

By Rhonda McBride 11:42 AM February 20, 2017


The Southwest Alaska community of Quinhagak would seem to be the last place on earth you’d find heroin.

The Yup’ik village of roughly 700 people still subsists on wild foods – caribou and moose from the Kilbuck Mountains and salmon from the Arolik and Kanektok Rivers. But last August, there were four heroin overdoses in one day. One young woman, Jamie Roberts, did not survive.

This week on Frontiers, the community of Quinhagak speaks out and shares what it has learned in hopes of saving lives.

Some of this week’s highlights:

  • Quinhagak Overdoses: A look back at a tragic day in Quinhagak. What the investigation revealed about mixture of heroin and fentanyl, never seen before in Alaska, that killed Jamie Roberts and how her family believes it was the first time she had ever tried the drug. We also hear from a man who overdosed on heroin the same day as Roberts. He nearly died and now wants to make the most of his second chance.
  • Quinhagak Fights Back: Tribal and city council leaders have advice for other rural communities on how to deal with drug dealers and users.
  • A Mother Remembers: Lisa Sauder is our featured guest this week. As head of Bean’s Café, she is well known in Anchorage for her efforts to feed the hungry. What people may not know is that Sauder lost her son last year to his longtime battle with opioids and heroin.
  • Beacon of Hope: KTVA’s Sierra Starks and photojournalist Emily Landeen bring us the story of Jennifer Waller, a recovering drug user, who is building a home to help other women find freedom from addiction.

So many painful stories were shared this week, but the big surprise is how fast heroin has invaded some of Alaska’s most isolated communities.

In Quinhagak, the grief and loss has been expressed in some profound ways. We did not have time to include several photos (below) into our show, taken of the clouds above the Roberts’ home on the day of Jamie’s death.

First, an angel appears out of storm clouds, then seems to walk to a rainbow, and then turns into a dove.

Whatever you see in the clouds, there is no doubt the community is still struggles to cope.


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