Communities across the state see an increase in suspected overdoses and drug use

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Anchorage firefighters say 34 times this month they have used naloxone to reverse the impact of suspected drug overdoses.

AFD says patients tell them they are using about the same amount of a substance as before.

"It's just the potency seems to have increased," Assistant Chief Erich Scheunemann said.

Scheunemann said that in the past, the city has seen outbreaks of spice and alcohol abuse go up, but never quite like this.

First responders say more witnesses have been able to intervene, over the past few weeks.

"We have seen at least four cases where bystanders have used the overdose response kits," Scheunemann said.

He adds, "If anything, the big change has just been the critical nature of the patients. That's probably been the biggest change we've seen this month."

When it comes to opioid use, AFD says it is happening in every area of the city, and it does not have boundaries.

The state's largest city isn't the only place seeing a spike in reported overdose calls.

According to Mat-Su Borough Emergency Medical Services statistics, the borough has seen a 240 percent increase in the number of overdose and poisoning calls, between the years 2007 and 2016.

During that same time frame, calls for service only went up about 40.1 percent.

Some nonprofits are also seeing a surge in the amount of people using programs designed to help drug users.

Since March, Alaskan AIDS Assistance Association's (The Four A's) syringe exchange program, which used to be free, has come with a suggested donation.

"We've actually gotten to the point where we've had to ask for a suggested one dollar donation from participants per exchange, which is averaging about 900 dollars a month," said Matt Allen, HIV education and prevention coordinator of The Four A's.

Allen said the additional funds could help supply the exchange for an additional three or four months. He said this is crucial, as funds get tighter across the board and needs are on the rise.

Over the past year, those using the program, which allows injection drug users to exchange used equipment for clean supplies, like needles, has doubled, according to Allen.

Those numbers include tourists, out-of-state workers and locals.

"This past year we've had about 21,000 individual exchanges and have gone through over half a million syringes," Allen said.

AFD says it has seen spikes with spice use and alcohol abuse in the past, but the hike in overdoses and poisonings is unprecedented.

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