As Alaska’s fentanyl crisis rises, officials look at how to manage it

Juneau, Alaska (KINY) – Congress passed the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities (SUPPORT) in 2018, which authorized funding for community-based treatment and recovery programs. That year, America saw a then-record of about 70,000 deaths from overdose, which has ballooned to nearly 110,000 this year.

In response to this rise of fentanyl overdoses and deaths, Congress is looking to reauthorize the SUPPORT Act with new tools that will help organizations in multiple different fields address this crisis.

Native Americans and Alaska Natives die from opioid overdoses at four times the state average, according to the proposed budget. Funds could potentially go to a campaign to spread awareness in tribes about opioids.

During Tuesday’s Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing, Senator Murkowski supported the inclusion of several critical pieces of legislation in the Substance Use-Disorder Prevention that Promotes Opioid Recovery and Treatment for Patients and Communities, otherwise known as the SUPPORT Act. The SUPPORT Act passed through a committee on a 19-1 vote.

“Alaska has been one of the hardest hit states in the opioid crisis, with devasting impact on lives affecting every community, culture, gender, and age,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski. “The SUPPORT Act includes a variety of tools that will assist in the fight against the opioid epidemic, including bolstering the substance use and peer specialists workforces, integrating resources within schools to meet youth where they are, and educational resources on the dangers of fentanyl and risks of opioid addiction. To make progress in combatting the opioid epidemic, we’re going to need all hands on deck, and the SUPPORT Act will be a major asset in this fight.”

Senator Murkowski agreed that the following provisions be included in SUPPORT:

  • Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery (STAR) Loan Repayment: One of the largest challenges the healthcare sector faces is workforce shortages. Many Alaskans have shared the challenges they have had finding a provider in the state. Reauthorizing the Substance Use Disorder Treatment and Recovery Loan Repayment Program helps to address this issue by providing loan repayment assistance to individuals who want to work in substance use disorder treatment in areas that have workforce shortages.
  • Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Act: It is clear that the connection between trauma, substance use, and mental health needs to be addressed, and that there needs to be more done to prevent trauma in the first place. Improving data collection and analysis on ACEs and investing in direct prevention are critical parts of moving upstream. This bill authorizes the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to award grants to public health entities to provide critical investments in the primary prevention of negative behavioral health outcomes.
  • Peer-to-Peer Mental Health Support Act: More and more studies have highlighted the impact that peer-to-peer programs have in addressing mental health in youth. In Alaska, schools and health organizations have been proactive in creating partnerships to get mental health support in schools, and this bill provides necessary investments for school districts to incorporate peer-to-peer mental health support programs for middle and high school students.
  • Bruce’s Law: This bill was introduced after the passing of Bruce Snodgrass, an Alaskan who died of an overdose. Fentanyl contamination and poisonings have plagued the United States, including Alaska. More education and awareness campaigns on the harms of addiction and the danger of fentanyl are desperately needed. The provisions included in SUPPORT would direct HHS to conduct these campaigns and create an interagency work group to improve federal efforts to reduce and prevent overdoses involving fentanyl-contaminated drugs.