This month the State of Alaska held its Opioid Action Plan Summit per executive directive of Governor Walker, and Dr. McAnallywas honored to be among over 60 contributors to the endeavor. A truly fine group of individuals committed to improving the health and safety of Alaska met for two days following weeks of meetings in preparation, with representatives from the medical and behavioral health professions, social work, public health, law enforcement, and government. The Summit was convened to comprehensively address Alaska’s opioid crisis and facilitate state and community actions pertaining to the “jurisdictions” of the various stakeholders involved.
Anyone with a television set or an internet connection here knows that prescription opioid abuse and dependence, and heroin and other illicit drug use has wreaked havoc on individual lives and families, and in some cases whole communities. Many reading this have felt the pain of ruined or even lost lives, and we mourn with you. While we vilify Josef Stalin, it’s worth considering one of his more famous statements: “The death of millions is a statistic; the death of one [person] is a tragedy.”
Our collective response, again drawn from numerous experts, each of whom is passionately committed to seeing our communities and State healed from this terrible plight is focusing on two key aspects of the epidemic:
(1) Improving prescribing practice and eliminating other distribution sources (what we call vector transmission in epidemiologic terms), and
(2) Building resilient individuals and communities.
Or from another perspective, both
(1) reducing supply and
(2) reducing demand. (See here for elaboration.)
Ultimately this epidemic will only end when enough of us (the host population in epidemiologic terms) develops immunity to the agent (in this case opioids, not bacteria or viruses.) And that immunity is developed in community and in relationships that provide support, encouragement and nurture – as well as “tough love” and training in lifestyle modifications – for people suffering with pain, distress and addiction. As we have learned to advise folks struggling with opioid dependence: that dependence will only effectively be overcoming by finding and pursuing something more desirable – whether self-respect, a job or other passion, health, the love of a child or significant other, deeper relationship and dependence on the Divine. We pray that resilience and immunity for us all here in the Last Frontier, and our nation, and world.