Summit brings providers, addicts, families to learn about opioid impacts
A symposium on how opioid use affects the community continues today and tomorrow in Fairbanks. More than 200 people are crowding into sessions about crisis contact, treatment and housing for people addicted to street drugs.
The symposium is the first time this many Interior Alaska treatment providers, addicts, family members and first responders were in the same room at the same time.
The sessions began yesterday with a panel of cops, fire and EMS personnel and Behavioral Health first responders. They noted trends they see when helping people in opioid overdose crises, or just mental health emergencies that require a response.
City of Fairbanks Assistant Fire Chief Andrew Coccaro says emergency medical technicians are working closely with other agencies in town, now.
“We all know that our patient population, our citizens that we serve, struggle with multiple substance abuse addiction issues. That's something I think that we do as a team really well, is try to help those individuals find ways out of this cycling.”
Lacy Church is a probation officer at Fairbanks Correctional Center. She says inmates that come in inebriated need time to be medically cleared before they can stay at the jail.
“I’ve noticed that detox seems to be taking longer. Um, I don't know if that's a combination of things that they're taking or under the influence of, and we definitely are seeing a lot of the mental health. I assume that they are self medicating, and so then it's just compacting issue after issue,” Church said.
Emergency room physician Dr. Mark Simon says while the conference is about opioids, teams should not take their eyes off methamphetamine.
“But meth is the other thing that we see a lot of, and that often is used concomitantly with people who are using opioids and heroin or fentanyl. And that drug, in my opinion, in my sense, is really, really disruptive and really complicates everything -- the effects it has on people and their decision making,” Simon said.
The panel talked about changes in practices that have led to some successes.
Sarah Koogle, the director of Adult Services at Alaska Behavioral Health said the Fairbanks Mobile Crisis team has consistently served.
“It was 737 calls that were diverted just last year.”
Fairbanks Police Chief Ron Dupee said the Mobile Crisis Team has taken about 50 calls a month off his department, and Fairbanks Correctional Center.
“We really are cheerleading for that program. It does take a workload off of the police department. Right now it's sitting at about 50, 50-ish calls a month that I don't have to send officers to, that Crisis now handles. In turn, probably the majority of those aren't going to jail, so it's not taking up resources at the jail either.”
Dupee said his department is very short staffed with only 29 officers and is trying to keep up with training that makes good relationships across the community.
“And for everybody involved in this; these employees have a tremendous amount of mental stress as well,” Dupee said.
The conference also heard Tuesday from funders who give grants for mental health, drug addiction and housing programs. Today’s sessions will focus on solutions such as peer support, Medication Assisted Treatment, using housing as a tool toward stability and breaking the stigma of mental illness and drug abuse.
On Thursday, the conference will show how attendees can take action to improve the community, and at 3:45, there will be an award ceremony acknowledging individuals and organizations that have broken barriers in crisis response, re-entry and treatment.