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Public invited to Tuesday workshop for feedback on opioid plan.

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Alaska’s opioid crisis has touched thousands in recent years. State public health officials are asking the public to help plan what comes next. They are hosting a three-hour community café next Tuesday afternoon to hear from people who have been affected by opiate use. A flyer is attached at the bottom of this story.

Last year, there were 253 opiate overdose deaths in Alaska, up from 146 in 2020.

“Everybody has a story of how opioids or substance misuse has impacted them either personally or a loved one, a friend, family member, a neighbor in one way or another.”

That’s Theresa Welton of the Office of Substance Misuse and Addiction Prevention. Her office tracks trends and statistics.

“The data that we're seeing is that there's higher mortality rates when there's multiple drugs being taken at the same time -- they'll take methamphetamine and then they'll take an opioid. And we're also seeing some really frightening numbers from fentanyl. We have a lot of illegal fentanyl coming into our state. It's killing Alaskans.”

In 2021, Alaska’s overdose death rate was 35.2 deaths per 100,000, up from 20.2 in 2020.

The Statewide Opioid Action plan will address how state resources can be focused in the coming years. But Welton says it needs direction from more eyes and ears. That’s why they’re asking people to come to what they are calling “a community café” next week at Pioneer Park.

“We want the professionals in the field. We want the law enforcement, we want government, coalitions and, and school teachers -- They're the ones that seeing the kids that are coming into school, not the kids themselves that are getting high, but their parents are. That variety of voices. There's no wrong person to come to this event.”

The last plan covered the years 2018-2022. It was drawn up after the Walker administration declared opiate misuse a state disaster. Meetings were held up and down the state, nine advisory teams from towns, tribes and nonprofit organizations contributed to the plan and about 100 people attended an opioid summit meeting to inform the plan.

Welton says this year, there are also many meetings planned around the state. But the landscape has shifted. Before and behind the COVID-19 pandemic, more people were touched by opiate misuse. She says they want to hear from them.

“But we want the citizens of Fairbanks, um, to be able to come and say, ‘This is what we're seeing. This is what's working. This is what's not, and this is our input into a plan that's, that's not an Office of Substance Misuse and Addiction Prevention plan. It's the state of Alaska's plan as in: all the citizens, because it affects all of us.”

The focus of the Community Café will be hearing from people in the Interior about their experiences with polysubstance misuse, overdose, and substance use disorders.

“They're broken up into small groups of about 10 people. The small groups will break out and each group for 30 minutes does either: knowledge and perceptions of what's going on in their community, what's unique to Fairbanks, and what's being done, existing efforts.”

She says people can RSVP using the QR code on the flyer for the event or this link: https://bit.ly/3Ki5OR4 . Or they can email monica@goveventservices.com.

Welton says they will serve refreshments at the community café because her colleagues recognize participants are making a time commitment. She says it will be active group participation and folks should bring their concerns.

“And a willingness to collaborate together.”

Information provided by small working groups will directly inform the revised Statewide Opioid and Polysubstance Use Action Plan. This plan works to serve as a guide for local and state governments, non-profits, coalitions and taskforces.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.