This story is republished with permission from KTVA.
Two Quinhagak men are facing manslaughter charges, after state prosecutors say they provided the tainted heroin which led to a woman’s 2016 death in the Western Alaska village.
The state Office of Special Prosecutions announced that 29-year-old James Friendly and 41-year-old Christopher Tom were arrested Tuesday in the Aug. 15, 2016 death of Jamie Roberts and three non-fatal overdoses on the same date. Troopers said at the time that the overdose which killed Roberts was “more fentanyl than heroin,” laced with a synthetic drug up to 20 times stronger than heroin.
“This case is being prosecuted by the Office of Special Prosecutions Statewide Drug Enforcement Prosecutor, which is a new position established by the Department of Law in order to combat the problems of drug distribution in Alaska,” prosecutors wrote.
Roberts’ death devastated the close-knit community of Quinhagak, which KTVA’s “Frontiers with Rhonda McBride” reported on during a visit to the village last year.
Alaska State Troopers conducted an “extensive investigation” of the case, according to Tuesday’s statement. Asked for details on the investigation, Katholyn Runnels, the assistant district attorney in the case, said by email Tuesday that she was “limited to what’s in the record and currently that only includes the indictment.”
An indictment of the men shows that the manslaughter charges stems from a provision in state law, allowing the offense to be charged against someone who “knowingly manufactures or delivers” a Schedule IV A controlled substance when “a person dies as a direct result of ingestion of the controlled substance.” Friendly and Tom are each charged with three additional counts of misconduct involving controlled substances.
Alaska officials have been grappling with the state’s ongoing opioid crisis in numerous ways, ranging from rallying with other states to alter federal law on seizing opioids to deploying the opioid-response drug Narcan with Alaska National Guard teams.
In 2015, 29-year-old Sean Warner received an 18-year federal sentence on a charge of distributing heroin, after injecting teenage girl Jena Dolstad in an Anchorage overdose which led to her 2011 death.