Alaska Snapshot: Opioids, heroin and public health strategies

Opioid and heroin overdoses in Alaska, 2016
Provided by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services

Just two months ago, Governor Bill Walker said this:

Alaska is in the grips of a tragic opioid epidemic. Abuse of heroin and opioids has torn apart families, increased crime, and led to far too many untimely deaths. The current system is not working, and we must do better. Too often, the path to opioid addiction is through prescription medication. This bill increases education and awareness of opioid abuse, and ensures better monitoring of prescription drugs. Solving our opioid epidemic will require all of us working together. Alaskans deserve it.

A 2016 PBS Frontline report, citing the National Institute on Drug Abuse, reveals that doctors tripled their prescriptions for painkillers (opioids) over the past 20 years, from 76 million in 1991 to 219 million in 2011.

According to Frontline, “This rise was made all the more dangerous when drug cartels began flooding the United States with heroin, which was cheaper, more potent, and often easier to acquire than prescription drugs.”

The 2016 Alaska epidemiology bulletin on overdose deaths in Alaska says the state’s rate of opioid overdose in Alaska in 2015 exceeded the national rate (11.0 vs. 10.4)

And here we are.

On today’s Hometown Alaska, experts in this current public health crisis will describe how Alaskans got here and what we can do about it. If you have questions or experience with opioids and or heroin, please listen to the show, and consider calling to ask questions or share your experiences with us.



HOST: Kathleen McCoy


  • Dr. Jay Butler, chief medical officer, AK Dept of Health and Social Services (phone)
  • Andy Jones, chief, emergency response, DHSS
  • Jyll Green, family nurse practitioner at myHealth Clinic in Anchorage
  • Cathleen McLaughlin, director, Partners for Progress re-entry program



  • Call 550-8433 (Anchorage) or 1-888-353-5752  (statewide) during the live broadcast (2:00 – 3:00pm)
  • Send email to before, during or after the live broadcast (e-mails may be read on air)
  • Post your comment or question below (comments may be read on air)
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kmccoy (at) alaskapublic (dot) org | About Kathleen

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