AFN panel discusses opioid epidemic in our communities
If anyone in the room at Thursday’s Alaska Federation of Natives Convention panel discussion thought the opioid crisis won't touch them or someone they love, moderator Valerie Davidson, had a message for them.
"Every single person in this room, including me, is one broken bone, or one dental procedure, or one medical procedure from being hooked on opioids. It can happen so fast before you even realize it's happening,” said Davidson, the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.
“The discussion that really needs to happen… What do we do about this?” said Dr. Jay Butler, Chief Medical Officer of the state of Alaska.
“We can't arrest our way out of this,” Butler said. “There's always somebody else who's willing to step in and pick up those sales.”
Butler says the good news is Alaska is starting to see small declines in deaths due to prescription opioids and heroin, while fentanyl deaths are up.
Fentanyl is a drug that’s easily 50 times more powerful than heroin and is considered the next big thing for addicts and dealers -- and the latest enemy of those trying to stop overdose deaths.
The task ahead is prevention and accessible treatment, which are already challenges in Anchorage and an even greater challenge in rural Alaska.
Programs discussed include telemedicine, peer support groups, needle and drug exchange programs and drugs like naloxone, which can stop an overdose, as well as Vivitrol, a drug that prevents recovering addicts from being able to get high.
The panel noted these are all tools -- pieces of the puzzle that is finding a solution.