Lack of facilities means long waiting lists for addicts seeking recovery
Recovery advocates say long waiting lists at limited detox facilities in Alaska are a major hurdle in curbing the state's opioid epidemic.
For someone struggling with addiction, each day can become its own battle, family members say.
"She wrote letters and prayers to God, saying 'please God, help me stay clean,'" John Green said of his daughter Kellsie.
Kellsie ultimately lost the battle against addiction in a prison cell in 2016.
Looking back on her fight to get clean, Green says every hour counts.
"There has to be detox and recovery available in real time when somebody makes that decision because otherwise it’s out the window," Green said.
Right now, the state has a serious shortage of detox beds-- there are less than 30 in all of Alaska.
"We can’t just start opening detox beds so fast that then we have a system that’s not accountable," said Andy Jones with the Department of Health and Social Services.
Jones is part of the incident command team aimed at curbing addiction Right now, the team's focused on what he calls a band-aid solution-- which includes distributing Narcan-- the drug that can potentially reverse an opioid overdose.
"So what we’re doing is saying 'you wanted treatment, you were ready for detox, unfortunately, we couldn’t get you in.' They have one of these kits so if they go back to those norms we’re giving them that second chance to survive," said Jones.
In some cases, giving addicts a chance to stay alive is the best the state can do right now.
Green says it's not as simple as willing away the problem. Addicts often experience devastating withdrawals while waiting for help. So, by the time help is available, it's sometimes too late.
"When you’re vomiting and defecating all over yourself and curled up in a ball in excruciating pain and have intense anxiety-- that we can’t even imagine-- it’s less likely that you’re going to be able to say 'yeah, get me in there,' Green said. "Because what your mind is saying is 'just one more time, just get me through this.'"
Green's daughter had to leave Alaska to get treatment. But by then, he says the grips of addiction were too strong.
The Mat-Su Opioid Task Force is hosting a recovery summit at Mat-Su College on Friday to discuss treatment options around the state.