Health Watch: Alaska uses education, Naloxone to fight opioid crisis

We hear from officials with the state to learn about the opioid crisis in Alaska.
Published: Dec. 8, 2022 at 9:16 AM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - With opioid abuse seeing an increase since 2015, the United States is in the third wave of the opioid crisis.

According to Coleman Cutchins, Lead Pharmacist with the Alaska Department of Health’s Department of Substance Abuse and Misuse Prevention, “When this started, sort of early 2000s, it was driven by medical diversion and what we would consider now excessive prescribing.”

The second wave, driven by less expensive heroin, came to prominence around 2011. “The third wave has really been driven by synthetic Fentanyl and derivatives,” Cutchins explained.

This Fentanyl is illicit, and not coming from the medical field. “Most of it is not the forms of Fentanyl that we use appropriately in the medical world, in surgeries and in severe traumas. These are analogues of Fentanyl,” he said.

The rise of Fentanyl in the United States has left authorities struggling to keep up. “A lot of the efforts are how do we stop people from overdosing now, and then we’re working more to figure out more primary and secondary prevention.”

Drug overdoses, meanwhile continued at elevated levels into 2022, according to Cutchins. “Unfortunately, 2021, and it’s looking like possibly 2022, are going to be some of the highest years that we’ve had in awhile.”

The data on opioid abuse, however, can take months to catch up to conditions on the ground.

One battlefront in the state’s response is to educate the public on the dangers. Another is to get the medication Naloxone into as many hands as possible.

Naloxone is often used to reverse an overdose situation. It can be administered as a nasal spray, intravenously, into the muscle, or under the skin.

However, Naloxone has its limits. Cutchins said it “doesn’t reverse other depressants like Benzodiazepines, or alcohol, or other sedatives.” While the medication can reverse the effects of an overdose, its effects do not last forever. “People can be reversed, and they can be saved, but then, unfortunately, a lot of times, the offending drug lasts longer than the Naloxone, either the Kloxxado or the Narcan, so it’s really important that if people do have to be rescued and do have to be reversed, that they seek medical care.”

Residents are urged to remember that when it comes to Fentanyl being present in a substance, one pill can kill.