Alaska's children are overdosing on heroin
Heroin is killing Alaskan children and grandchildren at alarming rates, and unless we do something to address the problem now, it will only get worse. Heroin-related deaths in Alaska tripled between 2008 and 2013. In 2012, the rate of heroin overdose deaths was 42 percent higher than the national rate.
Alaskans are no strangers to the heroin and opiate abuse crisis killing Alaskan’s children and grandchildren. We read reports weekly of heroin seizures, ruined lives, overdose deaths and grieving families.
Recently, we read that heroin is taking an unprecedented toll on Alaska (ADN – Public health officials find steep rise in Alaska heroin deaths, overdoses, July 14, 2015). The article highlighted findings of a new report by the Division of Public Health that every Alaskan public official should read, entitled “Health Impacts of Heroin Use in Alaska.”
Although Alaska is one of the hardest hit by the heroin epidemic, we are not the first. That means we have a tested roadmap to fight this killer. One tool, proven to dramatically reduce the number of heroin overdoses, is wider access to the lifesaving drug Narcan, which can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose.
Twenty-seven states have already enacted legislation to get Narcan into the hands of those who need it by removing civil liabilities for doctors who preventatively prescribe Narcan to addicts, and for friends and family who administer it during an overdose. I want Alaska to be the 28th state to add this life-saving tool to our toolbox.
With the support of the Alaska Medical Association, last session I introduced Senate Bill 23 to make Narcan more widely available. SB 23 passed the Senate 19 to 1, with nine Republicans and Democrats signing on as co-sponsors. It is imperative this bill move quickly through the House next session so we can get this lifesaving drug into the hands of those who need it.
Narcan will save lives when we pass SB 23. It is important to note that SB 23 is not a replacement for substance abuse treatment. Drug enforcement and rehabilitation are also critical components of the fight against addiction. SB 23 simply gives doctors and overdose bystanders the peace of mind that they will not be held civilly liable for doing the right thing, and perhaps more importantly, it gives families and loved ones a life-saving tool against the heartbreak of heroin overdose.
SB 23 is supported by The Alaska State Medical Association, The Anchorage Police Department Employees Association, the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, the Alaska Mental Health Board and Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, the Narcotic Drug Treatment Center, and countless families and addicts who have had their lives devastated by heroin.
Please spread the word and help us pass this lifesaving bill.
Sen. Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage), represents Anchorage areas Airport Heights, Downtown, Fairview, Government Hill, Mountain View, Russian Jack, and South Addition in the state legislature.