By DUSTIN STONE
FOR THE SKAGWAY NEWS
Skagway’s Opioid Task Force discussed the nationwide upswing in opioid abuse, and its gradual encroachment on Skagway, with a small group of concerned citizens during a town hall meeting Jan. 8.
“We know the community has an issue, but we don’t want it to consume our town and our people, so we’re trying to be proactive with this,” explained Mayor Monica Carlson, introducing the goals of the committee.
“We’re here to support the community in every way we can – from the clinic, to the police department, to the city. I believe it’s going to take a community, but it’s going to take family and peer pressure and you need to educate yourselves about the addictions in town,” she said.
According to Carlson, Narcan, a medication used to treat overdoses by blocking the effects of opioids on the respiratory and central nervous systems, was used in Skagway numerous times over the course of the last year.
This revelation evoked visible surprise in nearly everyone in attendance.
“And I’m sure it will be used again this summer,” Carlson added.
Assembly Member Tim Cochran laid out the task force’s four main objectives as: increasing community knowledge of opioids and addiction, increasing the capability of those suffering from addiction to receive treatment, reducing the available opioid supply in Skagway and increasing protective factors against substance abuse.
According to Cochran, steps already taken by the borough include the installation of prescription drug disposal boxes at the clinic and Public Safety Facility, an increased focus on alternative pain management techniques at the clinic and addiction workshops being held at the clinic.
Skagway residents can also now download a free phone app called P3 Tips that allows anyone to anonymously send photos, video, text and audio directly to the police department if they believe they have witnessed illicit activity. The app is available in the iPhone App Store or through Google Play.
Police Chief Ray Leggett said, while the app will help combat the distribution of illegal substances in town, it is not the intent of the police to use it to prosecute people suffering from addiction.
“We’re not heavy handed and we’re not here to be heavy handed, because putting you in jail is not going to help you fix your problem,” Leggett said, citing the need for additional access to addiction care and education services.
Dahl Memorial Clinic representatives Tammy Webb and John Hischer elaborated further on this need.
Webb focused on the effects of opioids and the path to addiction. She said that most abuse begins with legally prescribed pain drugs, especially in cases of addiction in minors. She explained that it is common for children to raid their parents’ medicine cabinets without realizing the full extent of the danger.
“They think, ‘oh it’s just medicine, how dangerous can it be?’” Webb said.
Proper disposal of prescriptions and strict attention to what goes in and out of one’s medicine cabinet are extremely important, Webb explained.
Hischer described the signs and symptoms of opioid abuse and offered advice on what steps to take if anyone should suspect a friend, loved one or even themselves to be suffering from addiction.
He also stressed the need of the community to view addiction as a disease, in order to break down the stigma associated with seeking treatment.
In the three days following the town hall, Hischer held the first of a series of ongoing addiction and recovery workshops at the Dahl Memorial Clinic.
Information on upcoming workshops will be posted on www.dahlclinic.org when available.
The Opioid Task Force will also be conducting more public forums and educational seminars during the upcoming year. Meetings will be announced at www.skagway.org.