An issue that can’t be ignored

Opioid and other drug addictions are a sad reality for some of our Skagway residents. In Alaska and across the country, opioid addiction is a growing problem that disproportionately affects rural communities such as ours. This is a health crisis, and it is going to take action from all of us to combat this problem.    

On June 14, the Skagway Opioid Task Force held its first meeting. During this meeting and during our subsequent meeting on June 28 we heard from residents about their concerns regarding opioids in our community. After hearing concerns we developed goals for the committee. These goals are:

• Increase public awareness and understanding of opioid abuse.

• Increase capability of treating those suffering from opioid abuse.

• Reduce the amount of opioids in Skagway.

• Increase protective factors from opioid abuse.

Increase public awareness and understanding of opioid abuse: Increasing the knowledge of what opioid abuse is, how to help those suffering from addiction and how to show community members how to avoid becoming addicted is an important first step in addressing the opioid issue.

The Dahl Memorial Clinic, Skagway School District and the Skagway Police Department have already begun collaboration on developing an education program that focuses on the dangers of opioids for our youth. There will also be a series of public forums on opioid addiction open to the entire public in the upcoming months.

Increase Skagway’s capability of treating those suffering from opioid addiction: The committee feels that helping those suffering from addiction is the top priority.

We view opioid addiction as a disease and it should be treated as such. Increasing access to quality care in our community and our state is critical for long-term health for those addicted to opioids. The committee will also work on decreasing the stigma of receiving care that is a barrier for many people.

Reduce the amount of opioids in Skagway: Through coordination with medical providers and federal, state and local law enforcement, the committee’s goal is to reduce the amount of opioids flowing through and around Skagway. This also includes increased access to alternative pain management strategies from the clinic, and unused prescription drug drop off locations.

Increase protective factors from opioid abuse: Studies have shown that those who experience childhood traumas are more likely to suffer from addiction and legal issues in the future.

In viewing the opioid issue as a long-term problem, the committee is focused on researching and putting into place protective factors for opioid addiction, including healthy parenting, and increased economic, academic and recreational opportunities.   

Opioid abuse is an issue Skagway cannot ignore. If we choose to wait for it to become a full blown crisis in our town it will be too late.

This is an issue that we need to be proactive about and unite behind. Everyone has a part to play in ensuring that Skagway does not go the direction of many small communities suffering from opioid addiction.

A viewing of a 50-minute film “Chasing the Dragon,” and community forum on opioid abuse with the Opioid Task Force will be held on Monday, July 24 at 5 p.m. at the Skagway Traditional Council. “Chasing the Dragon” has some strong language and graphic stories from people impacted from opioids, so viewer discretion advised.

Tim Cochran, Orion Hanson and John Hischer • Opioid Task Force