Reality Check w/ John Tracy: Alaska's opioid epidemic may be understated
It’s not often a press release catches me by surprise, but a release from the US Attorney’s Alaska office did just that this week.
The release was about the latest indictments on heroin and other opioid trafficking-- which, unfortunately, isn't shocking. But, it included a statement that said, “For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are the leading cause of death.”
Let me repeat that.
“For Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are the leading cause of death.”
That couldn’t be true. So, I did my own little Reality Check and discovered it’s absolutely true, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
For some reason, drug overdoses are put in the category of poisonings-- but by now, we should just call them what they are.
Alaskans are dying in record numbers from heroin overdoses. And by the score from prescription opioids.
I have absolutely no excuse for underestimating the extent of this problem. I think it’s because I’ve been lucky enough-- and I mean lucky-- to not have any first-hand experience with the epidemic. I’ve lost friends and family to plane crashes, car accidents, cancer and AIDS-- each of which is increasingly preventable, thanks to technology, training and research.
But, opioids are in a class all by themselves.
For many, the path to abuse begins with an injury and a legitimate prescription. And, it too often ends with an addiction that drains finances, destroys families and changes behavior to an extent the addict is unrecognizable-- even to themselves.
If you think you’re not impacted, you, too, have just been lucky so far. The uptick in burglaries, car thefts and home invasions in Anchorage is fueled by the insatiable need to raise money to buy the drugs, according to police.
It used to be taken at face value that if you weren’t involved in crime, you were relatively inoculated from it. I’m not sure that can be said anymore in Anchorage. And, it’s not that the State and communities across Alaska aren’t trying to address it. We’ve declared it a disaster. We’ve produced reams of reports and recommendations. But, there are waiting lists for treatment programs, which are needed so badly, that in the meantime, we’re spending millions of dollars providing Narcan kits that reverse the effects of an overdose-- kits that save lives but are sometimes used repeatedly by the same addicts.
That’s not an answer, and I don’t know what the answer is, but, I don’t believe that anyone wants to be an opioid addict. And addicts come in every age, creed and color, and from every corner of the community.
So, while you and I might think we’re lucky because we don’t know an opioid addict, the chances are that we do.
John’s opinions are his own, and not necessarily those of Denali Media or its employees.