News-Miner opinion: There is good news in the ongoing battle against opioid addiction in the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says more than 87,000 Americans died of drug overdoses across the nation in the 12-month period that ended in September.
The picture across Alaska for opioid addiction is no better. More Alaskans died of unintentional drug overdoses last year than in each of the previous two years, possibly fueled by the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic, a state report says.
During the first half of 2020, there were 21 overdose deaths in Alaska. In the first six months of 2018 and 2019, there were just two and eight deaths respectively caused by opioids.
Fairbanks certainly has seen its share of opioid addiction and the drug epidemic’s attendant costs.
The borough awarded the Fairbanks Native Association a three-year, $1.5 million grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to help address the borough’s problem.
Native Association Executive Director Steve Ginnis says the funding will offer better options for Fairbanks tribal members suffering from opioid addiction.
Perry Ahsogeak, director of behavioral health services for the Native association, says his organization sought the grant because it anticipates Fairbanks’ opioid problem will worsen as the Covid-19 pandemic ends and obtaining drugs becomes easier.
The Association is hiring six new positions created under the grant, including a project director and a cultural coordinator.
The grant will be used for community education and awareness, to expand access to culturally appropriate treatment services and use of culturally appropriate methods to improve social and relationship issues rooted in opioid addiction, and create a support system for individuals in recovery and their families.
We can only hope the prediction of worsening opioid problems as the pandemic wanes is wrong, but if it is not, the Fairbanks region will need all the help it can get to combat the rising tide.
The Fairbanks Native Association is to be commended for stepping up to confront this very difficult problem.