By Melinda Munson
My mom tells a story from decades ago about kneeling above a drug addict in a dirty men’s bathroom near Boston and administering mouth to mouth. It wasn’t what she expected to do that Saturday. She had a rare day off from her large brood and was looking for some relaxation. But after a request for assistance from a panicked librarian, my mother, who is not a medical professional, found herself staring at the yellow tiled floor assisting a blue-faced man no one else would help. Others were willing to do chest compressions but nobody wanted to touch the stranger’s mouth.
What my mother remembers most from that day is the judgment she felt from witnesses swirling above her. Was that man worth saving? Was he worth touching intimately, possibly risking the health of another person?
Her first response when she heard about Skagway’s first suspected fentanyl overdose deaths was to ask: Will there be judgment?
I immediately told her no and I think I’m right. In this town of less than 800 year-round winter residents, everyone is someone’s uncle, brother, father, co-worker.
GoFundMe pages have sprung up to cover funeral expenses, flights and housing for family members. Meals have been delivered. Collection jars are out at local businesses. It probably won’t be long before there’s a Burger Feed at the Elks in support of the families whose loved one succumbed.
We all have family and friends who are addicted. Dear ones who consistently choose drugs over honesty, or eating or staying safe. I adopted a family member’s child for this very reason. Birth mom forgets to call on her child’s birthday. She doesn’t take responsibility for the consequences her drug use has on her offspring’s body. It’s unfair and difficult, but she’s the one who truly suffers, trapped in a cycle of trauma and abuse that only she can exit. I worry that eventually she’ll end up on a bathroom floor, overdosed, with onlookers judging her, refusing aid.
The Skagway Traditional Council, the municipality and the clinic are working to get naloxone (Narcan) kits into the hands of anyone willing to learn how to use the drug to reverse an opioid overdose. Alaska residents can get two free kits from Iknowmine.org after an online training that takes 15 minutes. The kit includes naloxone nasal spray (two doses), gloves, face shield for rescue breathing, fentanyl test strip and instructions.
This will treat the immediate symptoms of an overdose, but I hope our community can do more. I hope we embrace counseling for those affected by loved ones with addiction. I hope we offer mental health resources and support to those who are addicted. I hope we work with the police to combat drug dealers (P3Tips) and I hope we continue to lift up those families devastated by loss. Because it’s winter. And this isn’t over.