Alaskans, leaders take on opioid abuse at town hall
Alaskans came together in Anchorage Thursday evening to talk about the state's opioid epidemic.
KTVA convened “Voices of Alaska: Addicted in Alaska,” a special town hall-style event featuring political, law enforcement and health authorities, at the Loussac Library. Moderator Joe Vigil asked the panelists questions submitted by Alaskans on how to deal with the costs of opioid abuse in lives and money.
One recurring topic Thursday was the 14 detox beds at treatment facilities in Anchorage.
"When you cut $1.7 billion out of a budget, it's going to hurt. And, I think in some areas, it's gone too far,” said Gov. Bill Walker. “This is the impact of continuing to cut and cut and cut."
In February, Walker declared opioid abuse a disaster in Alaska. He joined several other panelists speaking about over-prescription, criminal use and treatment.
From 2009 to 2015, there were nearly 800 overdose deaths in Alaska-- nearly 75 percent of which involved opioids.
Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz said it can be hard to recognize what's causing the problem.
"We've seen our ability to take care of ourselves degrade, and we've done it because we're ostensibly trying to save money in our budget,” Berkowitz said. “The cost of saving money comes at the cost of lives of sons and daughters, but, it also comes with the real fiscal cost as well, and it's time for us to solve our fiscal problems so we can solve our social problems and our moral problems."
State legislators will take up crime reform and a payroll tax in a special session next week.
All of the panelists stressed the solution won't just be legislative. They say communities must come together as well.