A Ketchikan man is facing felony drug charges after police say he was found with two dozen pills suspected to contain fentanyl and paraphernalia.
Police searched a hotel room at 18 Creek Street on Feb. 10 after they reportedly received an anonymous tip from a smartphone app called AKTips. That’s according to a statement from state troopers and court documents detailing the arrest through the Southeast Alaska Cities Against Drugs task force.
Ketchikan Police Lt. Andy Berntson says 30-year-old Frederick D. “Eric” Lauth III was in possession of suspected fentanyl pills. The pills are light blue and stamped with M on one side and 30 on the other, and Berntson says they’re especially concerning.
“These are the more potent pills that hardened opiate addicts or heroin addicts are going to for what they feel that they need, and so they’re in demand just as much, if not more as heroin anymore,” Berntson said in a phone interview Monday. “So it’s a disturbing trend for sure. Certainly probably isn’t coincidental that we have seen the amount of overdoses … on the increase in these last couple years.”
Advocates say too many residents have died of opioid overdoses in Ketchikan. Berntson says firm numbers on the number of overdoses and deaths are difficult to track down because of medical privacy laws.
Bernston says Lauth is thought to have brought the fentanyl pills into Ketchikan from the Lower 48. Officers also seized $29,000 in cash. According to court documents, he told police he was planning to send the cash to Seattle.
“Certainly, he’s an importer based on all available evidence, and primarily, (of) these fentanyl pills, which are a plague right now in our community and many communities elsewhere, especially in Southeast Alaska,” Berntson said. “Looking at the quantity of pills versus quantity of cash, there’s also some math that can be done, and it looks like this was a bigger shipment that we were on the tail end of when we got to him.”
Lauth reportedly admitted to importing the fentanyl pills, along with heroin and methamphetamine, according to court documents.
In December, authorities arrested two people at Ketchikan’s airport with nearly 3,000 similar pills thought to contain fentanyl. A third person suspected of conspiring with the two was arrested last month.
Berntson says it’s hard to say whether the cases are connected. But he says the pills, made to look like the opioid oxycodone, are thought to come from the Seattle metropolitan area.
“Obviously, somewhere, somebody has a pretty intricate process going where they’re able to print these out en masse and make them look fairly legitimate,” he said.
Ketchikan public defenders didn’t respond to requests for comment. Lauth pleaded guilty to a felony drug charge in 2020 and was on probation when arrested this month. Each of the four class A felony charges comes with a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Lauth was in custody in Ketchikan as of Monday in lieu of $150,000 cash bail.
This story has been updated for clarity.