Opioid Crisis – State and Nationwide

News Updates

As with many other states, Alaska is experiencing an opioid crisis. Governor Bill Walker issued a disaster declaration on the opioid epidemic on Feb. 15, 2017. The declaration established a statewide overdose response program (HOPE) under Dr. Butler and enabled the wide distribution of NARCAN (Naloxone). This site provides information that can help Alaska residents, families, health care providers and communities prevent heroin and opioid abuse, reduce addiction through treatment, and reverse the life-threatening effects of overdoses.

On November 1st, President Trump’s commission on the opioid crisis called for easier access to an alternative to opioids for people in pain and a nationwide system of drug courts, part of a menu of improvements the commission said is needed to curb the opioid epidemic. The final report has more than 50 recommendations, one being that doctors and others who prescribe opioids are required to show that they have received training in the ‘safe provision’ of those drugs before they can renew their license with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

States are moving to force physicians to check on patients’ narcotic-purchasing habits through databases that show whether their patients are getting drugs elsewhere. ASHNHA is currently working to implement an emergency department coordination project which the association brought forward in a bill that passed in 2016. Through the project, Alaska’s emergency department physicians agreed on statewide narcotic prescribing guidelines, which have been implemented. The association continues to work on integrating the prescription drug monitoring program data into a new emergency department information exchange system, which we plan to implement statewide.

The American Hospital Association (AHA) has a toolkit to help hospitals and health systems on how they can work with their patients, clinicians, and communities to stem this epidemic. The primary goals of the toolkit include: reviewing the multifaceted role of hospitals and health systems in fighting the epidemic, which includes reiterating the key activities that every hospital should be undertaking, and offering sources of expertise, ideas, and resources to assist hospitals in fulfilling their roles. The toolkit was created with input from subject matter experts, including psychiatrists specializing in addictions, CMOs, and other clinical experts, pain management professionals, and a number of specifically-identified stakeholders to ensure its relevance across the field. For more on the opioid crisis and additional resources for hospitals and health systems, visit the AHA website

State Legislation to address opioids

The State Legislature passed legislation to address the opioid crisis during the 2017 session. ASHNHA supported HB 159 and collaborated with the Department of Public Health to ensure that the bill’s provisions were workable in the inpatient and emergency department environments.

HB 159 included the following provisions:

  • Allows patients to execute a voluntary non-opioid directive.
  • Enables Alaskans to request partial refills of opioid prescriptions from pharmacists without voiding the remainder of the prescription.
  • Limits first-time opioid prescriptions to no more than a 7-day supply (with exceptions).
  • Strengthens reporting and education requirements for health care providers and pharmacists.
  • Requires the controlled substance prescription database to be updated daily rather than weekly.

Alaska Statistics:

  • DHSS’s Epidemiology department reported that 128 Alaskans died from drug overdoses in 2016. 
  • 74% of the deaths were due to or involved opioids, including prescription drugs and heroin.  38% of the deaths were solely due to heroin.
  • Drug overdose deaths in Alaska have now surpassed traffic-related deaths. 
  • The economic costs of the opioid epidemic include large productivity losses, vehicle traffic collisions, increased costs in the criminal justice and protective services systems, higher health care costs, the spread of infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis B and C, and a steady depletion of the State’s general fund. 
  • The total cost to the State, employers, and families in 2015 amounted to $1.22 billion, of which 45% or $543 million was due to productivity losses.

ASHNHA is joining with the Alaska Division of Public Health for the Advancing Health in America through State Hospital Association and Public Health Collaboration. We will be working together to address this critical public health issue. If you would like to get involved or have some resources you would like to share contact, Michelle.



Murkowski on addressing the opioid crisis

Prescription Opioids: What Alaskans Need To Know – Brochure, DHSS

With Opioids, Not Sharing is Caring – Opioid PSA Message


Opioid Public Education Campaign Messages and Materials:

Dr. Joshua Sonkiss, medical director of the Fairbanks Community Mental Health Services talks about the science of addiction at the Alaska Health Summit.

In an effort to combat the growing epidemic of prescription drug and heroin abuse, the FBI and DEA have released “Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict,” a documentary aimed at educating students and young adults about the dangers of addiction.

A great video that teaches how pain and opioids work in the brain.