Alcohol abuse in rural parts of Alaska such as Nome is prevalent and persistent. According to the 2007 Annual Drug and Alcohol Report by the Alaska State Troopers, alcohol abuse is the primary cause of violent crime in rural Alaska (1).
Approximately three decades ago a “local option” law was introduced in Alaska designed to assist local communities in combating alcoholism and the problems it created. While complex, the essential crux of the law is that communities hold elections and therefore have the power as to whether they will be a dry, damp or wet community.
Out of around 200 rural towns in Alaska, approximately 136 voted to become dry, meaning alcohol is prohibited in their community. “Damp towns” means limited amounts of alcohol can be imported for personal use with each community setting its own limits as to how much alcohol can be imported and the penalties for non-compliance.
By comparison, wet towns are able to sell alcohol without these limits, which is sold in local grocery and liquor stores and served in local bars.
Results of a Dry Community
However, despite the self-electoral system, alcoholism remains rife in Alaska, namely because of the prolific amount of alcohol smuggling and bootlegging in the region. As the Alaska State Troopers Drug and Alcohol Report highlights, a bottle of alcohol is extremely lucrative booty in dry towns, with a $10 bottle often selling for more than $150.
While the US has more than 500 dry communities, it is common for residents to flee their dry home town to wet communities to get their alcohol fix. Places such as Nome, which is a wet town, and draws vast numbers of Native and American communities for serious binge drinking sessions, are especially prone to alcohol-related problems.
As USA Today writes, day and night inebriated individuals stagger across the town of Nome, passing out in often sub-zero temperatures (2). While some are carted off to a dry hospital, many die from their drunken-stupor, which has led them to drown or perish from being exposed to freezing temperatures. Others simply vanish.
The level of alcoholism is intense,” Greg Smith, manager of the Norton Sound Health Corp’s outpatient substance abuse program, told USA Today.
“The most dangerous pattern of drinking is binge drinking and it is firmly entrenched here. It’s been built into the drinking culture,” Smith continued (2).
History of Alcohol Abuse
Nome has a long history with alcohol abuse which began in 1898 when gold was discovered in the town. The new-found fortune resulted in hard-drinking fortune hunters flocking to the town and some 50 or so drinking saloons being opened along Front Street in Nome.
With vast numbers of drunks roaming between dry, wet and damp communities, there have been tens of thousands of missing people in Alaska since 1988 when police began recording numbers.
The high spate of disappearances and deaths in Alaskan villages such as Nome led to the FBI conducting an investigation. In 2005 FBI officers investigated the disappearances of 24 people which had occurred in Nome between the 1960s and 2004.
Despite speculation of serial killers and alien abduction, the FBI report concluded that excessive alcohol consumption and a harsh winter climate with “common ties in many of the cases” (3).
As Top Secret Writer wrote in 2012, in 2009 the filmmakers of the American movie “The Fourth Kind” took the single true fact about the many strange disappearances that occurred in Nome around 2000 but morphed it into an elaborate, and as proven by the FBI investigation, completely false tale, which “glamorized” the disappearances as being alien abductions (4).
Unsurprisingly the movie irritated the people of Nome as the Alaskan Dispatch News wrote:
“Nomeites didn’t much like the film exploiting unexplained disappearance of Northwest Alaskans, most of whom likely perished due to exposure to the harsh climate, as science fiction nonsense” (5).
References & Image Credits:
(2) USA Today
(4) TSW: The Real Story Behind Nome Alaska Missing People
(5) Alaskan Dispatch News
(6) Image of Nome Alaska
(7) The Fourth Kind Movie Poster