By TOBEY SCHMIDT
Skagway’s Opioid Task Force has met for the first time to discuss its goals and possible solutions to a growing drug problem in the state of Alaska.
Alaska Gov. Bill Walker issued a disaster declaration in February on what he called an opioid epidemic. In March, Walker filed legislation to change the way that opioids are monitored and prescribed. The task force is currently comprised of two assembly members, Orion Hanson and Tim Cochran, and one representative of the clinic and school board, John Hischer. These three met at City Hall on Wednesday, June 14, along with a few other local citizens.
Hischer came with a list of goals for the committee, one of which was to increase the public’s awareness of opioids and prescription drug use.
“To put blinders on and say it’s not in Skagway is not true,” Hanson said. “This is not a statistic, these are people I know.”
The task force wants to start by educating the public on the issue, especially children.
The task force is planning to work with local law enforcement and state troopers to utilize their drug prevention program.
“I think law enforcement needs to be a part of the reduction here,” Hischer said. “Because it is here.”
Legally prescribed opioids have been described as a gateway to other drugs like heroin. Hanson explained that these opioids can be extremely costly, which will force users to instead buy cheaper street drugs like heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine.
“[The] Opioid Task Force Committee doesn’t have to just be opioids,” Cochran said.
Another goal that Hischer came up with for the task force was to reduce the amount of opioids and other drugs coming into Skagway. Members of the task force speculated that drugs are coming into Skagway through air, mail, water and the highway. However, the task force also made it clear that, while they do want to stop the influx of drugs, they are also interested in getting help to those who do struggle with a drug addiction.
“It’s painful to see. There’s no rainbow at the end of it,” Hanson said. “It’s very ugly, very sad, not just for the person but for the people around them, too.”
The final goal the task force discussed was to increase protective factors of opioid use. Skagway School Superintendent Dr. Josh Coughran made a point that school athletics should continue to be proactive in regards to sports injuries so there’s less of a chance that a student would get seriously hurt and need to be prescribed pain relievers.
Amy Coughran, a registered nurse with the Dahl Memorial Clinic, was also in attendance at the meeting. She suggested that they work on a paradigm shift regarding the way addicts are viewed and treated. She pointed out that many opioid addicts are former victims of accidents or trauma incidents.
Eventually, the task force would like to have a program in Skagway where recovered addicts can be mentors to people who are currently struggling with addiction. That is a long-term goal.
The task force is planning to meet every two weeks. Its next meeting will be at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, June 28 at City Hall. The task force also discussed setting up a town hall style meeting on a day and time where more citizens will be able to attend and give input.