Representatives from the municipality of Skagway, police department, school and clinic are beginning to build a task force to address growing concerns about the statewide opioid crisis.

In response to a request from Superintendent Dr. Josh Coughran, Officer Brian Williams of the Skagway Police Department touched base with the school on the issue.

In his correspondence, Williams stated the police department wished to start a partnership with the school, and expressed a concern that the opioid epidemic will likely come to the community soon. The officer also recommended creating a specific approach to prevention and education for the Skagway community.

Williams expanded on this in an interview with The Skagway News, where he talked about some of the problems “cookie cutter” drug prevention programs tend to have.

“D.A.R.E. is probably the most predominate,” Williams said. “But if you look at [it] statistically and all the studies that have been done of the D.A.R.E. program, it doesn’t work.

“There’s been studies to study the studies, and they’ve all come to the same conclusion: it doesn’t work.”

According to Williams, one issue the D.A.R.E. program had was that it always seemingly fell on the back of law enforcement, with no follow-up from schools, administration or counselors.

In his experience Williams said he’s seen best results from all-inclusive programs, which involve the school, parents, law enforcement and the community.

Even more than that, Williams said he and Chief of Police Ray Leggett agreed their approach to education needs to be tailored to the municipality specifically.

“I don’t want to go down the road of something like D.A.R.E. where we come in and teach an hour-long block once a week, and nothing else is ever spoken of it,” Williams said. “It needs to be a whole team attack, if you will.”

Williams said in the modern era, things like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act can create barriers to tackling the opioid problem. HIPAA protects confidential and sensitive patient information, but it also makes it hard for entities like the police department to gauge the reach of opioids in the municipality. That is where collaboration with other entities in the community would come into play.

Barriers to solutions aren’t only in the way of the people moving to head off the situation.

There are obstacles that people combating the ill effects of opioids have to contend with as well.

While Williams said that heroin is currently the “big scare,” School Board President and behavioral health clinician John Hischer is also concerned about other substances – particularly prescription pain relievers.

An addiction to legal, doctor-prescribed opioids can sneak up on a person, according to Hischer, because people taking them are most often simply following their doctor’s orders.

“They are doing everything right that they’ve been told to do,” Hischer said. “And then there’s a shift in care and then those opiates are taken away and they find themselves desperate, find themselves going through withdrawals.”

For someone who finds himself or herself in that situation, someone who has never dealt with those issues before, Hischer said it can be challenging to recognize the problem and seek help. The same goes for family members trying to find the right things to say to a loved one with a problem.

“It is a biological event, it is a psychological event that you can get help with, and it says more about them that they would be brave enough to get help and address those things,” Hischer said.

In terms of fighting the opioid issue in Skagway, making prescription drug drop-off areas easily accessible could help with the problem by removing unused pills from medicine cabinets and cupboards.   

The clinic will be one such drop-off point, said Hischer.

The pains of addiction are not the only hurdle someone dealing with a opioid problem has. For a person hooked on a regulated opioid like Oxycodone, suddenly losing their supply of that pain reliever can draw them towards an easily-obtained substitute like heroin.

Hischer said simply having a greater number of people in more places around town speaking about the problem would be a start for preparing for the opioid issue.

“Having other people talk about it, recognizing it as an issue, having the mayor talk about it, having assembly members talk about it,” Hischer said. “Just opening up the conversation that, yeah it is an issue here.”