Summit emphasizes how people in recovery are fighting Alaska’s opioid epidemic

Panelists get ready to address the crowd at the Recovery Summit at the Glenn Massay Theater in Palmer. (Henry Leasia / Alaska Public Media)

Support groups from Anchorage and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough met on Friday to discuss addiction in Alaska.

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The Recovery Summit was held in Palmer and addressed efforts that had been made over the past year to improve the state’s opioid epidemic.

Inside an auditorium filled with people whose lives have been touched by addiction, the state’s Chief Medical Officer Jay Butler ran through a list of what the Mat-Su Opioid Task Force has done to combat substance abuse.

“It’s bringing together law enforcement,” Butler said.  “It’s bringing together teachers, it’s bringing together family members who are impacted, and most importantly people who are in recovery.”

In looking for ways to curb drug abuse, the state hasn’t always sought out input from people recovering from addiction themselves.

Terria Walters is the founder of Fallen Up Ministries, a group that provides non-opioid addiction recovery treatment and has worked with the Mat-Su task force. Walters is in recovery herself and has spent time in prison. For years, Department of Corrections policy prevented her from helping people with a history of addiction as they left prison.

“Somebody would say, ‘I don’t want you talking to Terria because she’s a convicted felon and that’s the policy,'” Walters said. “‘No felon to felon contact. Even if you did treatment with her and she’s doing good. She’s a felon.'”

Walters said that a correctional system that punishes addiction has a negative impact on recovery.

Many feel that the anonymity that is at the heart of support groups like narcotics anonymous perpetuates the sense of shame and stigma associated with addiction. Karl Soderstrom, cofounder of the support group Fiend 2 Clean, said that he wants to bring people in recovery out of the shadows.

“What we’re trying to encourage people to realize is that there’s a lot of pride in recovery,” Soderstrom said. “We don’t have to relive the past, and we don’t have to own our addiction. What we have to do is be proud of our recovery and share it with folks so that they can get out of their addiction and find recovery for themselves.”

These days, groups such as Fallen Up Ministries and Fiend 2 Clean have become allies in the state’s fight against opioid addiction. In the past probation officers may have prevented people leaving prison from speaking with Walters, but now they refer clients to her.

“So the person that’s going to help me most is somebody that has lived experience and has been where I’ve been, and so Department of Corrections is starting to see the value in that,” Walters said.

People recovering from addiction have become a crucial point of contact for the state to reach those most affected by the opioid epidemic.