Report: Alaska Heroin Use is Skyrocketing

A new report from the state health department shows a dramatic rise in heroin use in Alaska. The number of hospitalizations for heroin related causes nearly doubled in the state from 2008 to 2012.

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And in 2013, 23 people in Alaska died from heroin overdose, four times the number of overdose deaths in 2008.

Dr. Jay Butler is the state’s chief medical officer:

“When we look at the magnitude of heroin deaths combined with the magnitude of deaths due to prescription opioids, we’re looking at a similar number to what we see with motor vehicle accidents. that’s a problem, but it’s one of those things that doesn’t tend to get in the news very often because it doesn’t happen all at once.”

According to the report, many addicts switch from prescription pain killers to heroin because it’s cheaper and easier to find. Dr. Butler says he had a patient last year who told him he spent more on cigarettes than heroin.

Butler is working to improve access to the drug naloxone (nah-LAX-own), which can prevent overdose deaths. And he wants to make the state’s prescription drug monitoring program more user friendly for prescribers and pharmacists and more well known:

“We also need to get the word out. I’ll be honest, I’m a licensed physician with a DEA number. I didn’t even realize we had a prescription drug monitoring program until I worked for the state.”]

The state’s prescription drug monitoring program was established in 2008 to combat the misuse of controlled substances.

Source: Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services.
Source: Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services.
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Annie Feidt is the Managing Editor for Alaska's Energy Desk, a collaboration between Alaska Public Media in Anchorage, KTOO Public Media in Juneau and KUCB in Unalaska. Her reporting has taken her searching for polar bears on the Chukchi Sea ice, out to remote checkpoints on the Iditarod Trail, and up on the Eklutna Glacier with scientists studying its retreat. Her stories have been heard nationally on NPR and Marketplace. Annie’s career in radio journalism began in 1998 at Minnesota Public Radio, where she produced the regional edition of All Things Considered. She moved to Anchorage in 2004 with her husband, intending to stay in the 49th state just a few years. She has no plans to leave anytime soon. afeidt (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8443 | About Annie