Walker signs opioid addiction prevention bill

Governor Bill Walker on Tuesday signed into law House Bill 159, which aims to help prevent opioid addiction before it starts. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media)

Governor Bill Walker on Tuesday signed into law House Bill 159, which aims to help prevent opioid addiction before it starts.

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The law puts new limits on opioids like capping new prescriptions at seven days-worth of pills, and requires training about abuse for medical practitioners.

In February, Walker issued a disaster declaration for Alaska’s ongoing opioid epidemic.

On Tuesday, the governor was at a homeless youth center in Wasilla for the bill signing. He said the the multi-pronged legislation is a good first step.

“The most important step is the next step, whatever that is. This is something that, to get on top of the situation, you have to have an action plan and each day take a step you didn’t take the day before.”

Walker said more needs to be done, adding that at least 70 people have died in Alaska from overdoses attributed to prescription painkillers and heroin so far this year.

The state’s ongoing effort to prevent opioid addiction and overdoses falls under the purview of a team Walker assembled.

The state’s public health director, Doctor Jay Butler, leads that team and says prescriptions are only one part of the problem.

“Things that we still need to do address access to treatment for people with addiction, undoing some of the stigma that is associated with a variety of addictions, and then also getting into the more fundamental questions, such as how do we mitigate and prevent adverse childhood experiences, which we know is one of the drivers that puts people at risk for substance abuse and addiction,” Butler said.

When asked about the U.S. Senate’s vote on healthcare today, Walker responded by saying that repealing the Affordable Care Act without legislation to replace it would likely make it harder for Alaskans to get access to substance abuse treatment.

Walker said he will not support any move that will hurt Alaskans and is staying in close contact with the state’s congressional delegation.

“I don’t have a rear view mirror,” Walker said. “Today is the vote it is, but I want to continue to stay in close contact with them, which they’ve been very good about keeping in contact with my office, with me personally, about the legislation, because, you know, at the end of the day, the states are going to have to deal with this.”

Asked about how Alaska’s senators split on the vote and what his message is for the congressional delegation, Walker said he hopes to learn about what will be included in any upcoming healthcare legislation through his reports from the delegation.