Though a number of steps have been taken at the state and federal level to combat the nation’s opioid crisis, comments from Alaska State Troopers made clear that it is a problem that will not be solved by government alone.
In a Feb. 13 briefing to media, Michael Duxbury, commander of the troopers Statewide Drug Enforcement Unit, said drug enforcement agents are working to develop non-traditional partnerships with public health agencies, private businesses and individuals to tackle the public health crisis.
“Private partnerships are going to be the next level of what we need to do as a community in Alaska to really go after this problem that is getting worse,” he told reporters.
Indeed, we’re seeing symptoms of the problems he described right here on the central Kenai Peninsula on a regular basis. We’ve seen a number of deaths due to overdose, including overdoses involving fentanyl, a synthetic opioid with 1,000 times the strength of a dose of Oxycodone.
Beyond the dangers of overdose, we’re seeing other social impacts Duxbury described, including burglaries, person-on-person crime, auto theft, and other crimes related to drug trafficking. A 2017 report prepared for the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority estimated that drug abuse in Alaska cost the economy $1.22 billion in 2015.
And because of the extent of the issue of addiction, it is no longer a problem that just affects a few people. With the impact on public resources, from law enforcement to public education to health care, it has become an issue that affects the entire community.
So, what can we do about it?
First and foremost, we need to acknowledge just how big the problem is. This is something that is happening here, in our community, not is some far away big city. Any one of us may have family members, friends, neighbors, or coworkers are coping with opioid addiction.
At this time last year, Gov. Bill Walker declared the opioid crisis a public health disaster and signed an executive order directing state agencies to pursue grant funding to help fight opioid abuse across the state. There have been steps taken here on the peninsula, including the increased availability of Naloxone, a drug that can be used to counteract an overdose, as well as a number of outreach efforts to make the public more aware of the signs of addiction.
Likewise, measures are being pursued to put restrictions on opioid prescriptions as the medical community rethinks how it addresses pain. And Alaska has joined a lawsuit filed against opioid manufacturers.
But, as a community, we also need to make sure that we don’t stop with what’s been done. As Duxbury noted, more and more powerful opioids are coming into Alaska. We need to continue to support all efforts to fight the problem, because this is a community crisis that won’t be solved by government alone.