By DAN FOX
Multiple groups and institutions in Skagway are moving forward with initiatives that could potentially help with education for, assistance with and prevention against the looming opioid epidemic.
The Dahl Memorial Clinic now has access to Narcan – a medicine that blocks the effects of opioids in the body and reverses overdoses.
There is also an anonymous drug drop-off box at the clinic as well, and the clinic is giving out a kit that helps people safely dispose of unneeded prescription painkillers.
Additionally, the clinic is seeking a special grant, which would provide $150,000 in funds to support mental health and substance abuse service expansion.
Clinic Director Shelly O’Boyle said a large portion of the grant is to be used for telemedicine, which allows patients to consult with specialists and doctors over long distances, among other services.
“We would purchase two telemed carts with that, and then start that program,” O’Boyle said. The grant funds would also allow the clinic to send providers out for additional training regarding opioid addiction and prevention, and training to help patients find another route to reduce pain beyond prescription painkillers.
O’Boyle said the grant is being highly sought-after from other healthcare providers in the state.
“In Southeast alone in my peer group I know we all submitted for this grant,” O’Boyle said.
At the school level, Superintendent Dr. Josh Coughran said there is a tentative plan to work a showing of the Federal Bureau of Investigation documentary “Chasing the Dragon” into the school’s fall open house.
“It is a pretty powerful film, and so one of the things we are going to need to talk about is how to facilitate that discussion afterwards,” Coughran said. A suggestion proposed at the Aug. 9 meeting of the Opioid Task Force was to provide a forum for feedback after the screening, and then to set up a community strategy/planning meeting to follow at a later date. The film features strong language, so Coughran said the school will forewarn parents and students ahead of time.
Additionally, Coughran said the topic of drug awareness will be made a focus of the junior high and high school health course this year.
Earlier in the summer, the Task Force laid out four goals for itself: increase public awareness and understanding of opioid abuse, increase capability of treating those suffering from opioid abuse, reduce the amount of opioids in Skagway and increase protective factors from opioid abuse. More recently, the Task Force also held a screening of “Chasing the Dragon” at the Skagway Traditional Council, followed by a community forum.
Task Force Member Orion Hanson said the group has a lot of work ahead of it as the Task Force looks at the steps necessary to help people suffering from opioid abuse. He said having the information out in the open, having meetings on the topic and holding frank and honest discussions are all positive steps.
“In terms of what kind of results you are going to see, hopefully you don’t see any results,” Hanson said. “The results you don’t want are the ones where you have people overdosing, where you have widespread addiction.”
The ideal results from the community’s efforts would be “life as normal,” Hanson said.
Hanson said at the group’s recent Aug. 9 meeting, there were a number of members of the public “eager to see a step up in enforcement.”
“There was quite a candid discussion about how a case has to be made to take it to trial, to take it to court and press charges, and part of the discussion [was] about private property and how you get warrants, and that kind of stuff,” Hanson said. School privacy rules were also talked about, and the Task Force held a dialogue on how an operation utilizing Alaska State Trooper drug sniffing dogs might be approved.
“Those were all options that were discussed, because there were a couple people from the public who really wanted to know why the police couldn’t just go and apprehend people who are bringing narcotics into Skagway,” Hanson said.
The process for the community to deal with the problem will be a long one, according to Hanson.
“I don’t know that there’s a time where you say ‘we’ve solved this riddle, it’s finished, it’s fixed,’” Hanson said. “It’s not a contract, it’s ongoing deterrence of something that I think is everywhere, it’s all across the United States, and it’s something that is probably going to be plaguing our communities for decades to come.”