Brewfest donations questioned

A Juneau organization that fights heroin abuse will take a quarter of the money raised during the city’s annual brew fest. Its participation raised the question: Is it appropriate for an anti-heroin group to take donations from a beer festival – especially considering Alaska’s high rates of alcoholism?

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There’s a stage, live music and a large room packed with people drinking from short glasses of beer. The organization Juneau – Stop Heroin, Start Talking is passing out koozies that say ‘Beer and Bacon are 100% better for you than heroin.’

Finding people willing to talk about the koozies wasn’t too hard.

One attendee stated, “I’ve never done heroin, but I’ve done a lot of beer!”

Luckily there were some people who were able to give the question some thought. Adam Buechler (BEEK-lur) isn’t too concerned: “It’s weird, but a lot of programs will substitute one addiction with another and I think the majority of people will agree that beer is a better addiction than heroin.”

Hailey Ward is on vacation from her job in Calgary, Canada. She’s a nurse in a homeless shelter and says addictions are her specialty. The koozies caught her off guard though,  “Heroin is not something I joke about and it’s something, I see as a very serious thing in my work environment, so mixing my vacation life, going to a beer festival and seeing them almost joking about heroin, yeah it caught me for a moment for sure.”

But, she says it’s a beer festival and she’s not offended, “And I’m also here so I can’t be like ‘oh I’m very offended about this.’”

Izzie Felstead, thinks the koozies had a good message, “I thought it was really cool, because I don’t use koozies very much but if I’m going to have a koozie at least it says something better than like, ‘drink beer.’”

Felstead also likes the rubber wristbands making the rounds, “I have a wristband that says ‘Stop Heroin, Start Talking.’ I think that’s a better message because kids will wear them rather than having something they have to put on a beer.”

Each year the Juneau Rotary partners with another organization to help throw the brew fest. The partner gets 25 percent of the money the festival raises. Rotary officials say historically, the event raises about $25,000.

But, should Michele Morgan’s organization, Juneau — Stop Heroin, Start Talking, take that money?

The CDC has reported Alaska has one the highest rates of binge drinking in the country. The state reported in 2010 Alaska had the highest rate of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

Morgan agrees that alcohol can be dangerous, but says the brew fest is a legal event and it gives her a chance to spread her message: “I did the bacon fest and we did the same thing, ‘bacon is 100 percent better for you than heroin.’ Anything is better for you than heroin. I mean, it can kill you with one mistake.”

She says she will go to any event to spread awareness and try to save the next generation from the dangers of heroin, “I don’t eat bacon. I don’t eat farmed meats, but I did bacon stickers for the bacon fest. I did the beer ones for the beer fest. I don’t drink beer.”

Morgan says she got one complaint about the brew fest. A woman whose son is an addict emailed her and said she was upset by the organization taking part.

“We talked and I explained to her, ‘These are decisions. Not everyone is an alcoholic. These people here, alcohol is legal in the United States. I’m not the one who makes it legal.’”

She told her, the opportunity to bring awareness to a new group of people and get some much needed money for their cause was huge. And she’s thankful for it.

“We talked and emailed and she actually understood and apologized, and said I understand. This event is happening. If this is an adult event and these people are maintaining and doing well, why do we have to take that away from shining a light on how horrible heroin is?”

Morgan says the money she gets from the Rotary will help fund her awareness campaign. It will also help in a new venture. She and a woman whose son died from heroin abuse are planning to take the message into Juneau’s schools.

Morgan wants to talk about the state’s report that Southeast Alaska saw a near 500 percent increase in Hepatitis C cases in five years. The report links the increase to injection drug use.