Alaska plans new task force to address heroin, opioids

The state is convening a new task force to try and tackle the high rates of heroin use, prescription opioid abuse and related deaths in Alaska.

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Graphic courtesy of CDC.
Graphic courtesy of CDC.

The 20-member Alaska Opioid Policy Task Force is charged with coming up with recommendations on policy changes that could help address heroin and opioid abuse and deaths around the state.

The state Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse and other partners announced the new group Wednesday. The board’s executive director, Kate Burkhart, said the new group will try to work with exisiting community entities as much as possible.

“The task force is going to be working closely with community organizations and coalitions to ensure that the final recommendations on how to address issues related to the heroin epidemic are relevant and applicable to communities statewide,” Burkhart said.

The state is still finalizing members of the new group, but it will draw on a diverse range of experiences, she said.

“We’ll be looking at the health care sector, the criminal justice sector, the public health sector, health care practices, recovery support, those kinds of things to provide kind of a three-dimensional picture of how the state and communities can help reduce the impact of heroin and opioid abuse on families and individuals,” she said.

The body will also include representatives from the tribal health system and behavioral health realm, a mix of urban and rural perspectives, and people whose lives have been affected by addiction.

“We have people that are in recovery themselves, as well as family members that have been affected by heroin or opioid addiction in their family,” Burkhart said.

The group is expected to have recommendations for the governor and Legislature by the end of November. The first meeting will be May 20. In the meantime, Burkhart said the groups partnering to put together the task force will be collecting resources for task force members, and making connections with existing community groups. Because the task force is limited in size, Burkhart said reaching out to other groups is a priority.

Before the task force convenes for its first meeting, Dillingham will have a chance to weigh in on those issues when the advisory board on alcoholism and drug abuse meets in Dillingham, May 11-13.

“The work of the task force will be part of the agenda at that board meeting, and we will be having a public event,” Burkhart said. “…So there’s an opportunity for folks in Dillingham to come and in a more relaxed way interact with board members and they can talk about the work of the opioid task force, they can talk about issues related to mental health or substance abuse.”