Need for drug addiction treatment discussed in House Finance Committee

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JUNEAU, Alaska (KTUU) - The House Finance Committee heard about the need to tackle drug addiction treatment Tuesday afternoon, as a second phase of improving public safety across Alaska.

House Bill 49 which increases sentencing ranges for drug possession passed through the Alaska House of Representatives Monday evening with members across the aisle saying rehabilitation and treatment was a necessary next step.

House majority members are finalizing a package they hope to pass this session as part of the FY2020 capital budget. Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, D-Anchorage, said she hoped the package would be around $20 million and provide funding for “shovel-ready projects” across Alaska.

Spohnholz described that there are currently 325 beds for inpatient treatment with the need for another 250. Another 1,000 slots could be needed for outpatient treatment, she said.

Nancy Burke, the Housing and Homeless Services Coordinator with the Municipality of Anchorage, spoke to House Finance about a facility being worked on in Anchorage. The $22 million facility would provide roughly 250 beds and if it received enough funding, ground would be broken next spring.

Lance Johnson, the director of Behavioral Health Services at Norton Sound Health Corporation, told the committee about a project that would start work soon and provide more treatment options for Nome and its surrounding areas.

Rep. Tammie Wilson, R-North Pole, spoke on the House floor Monday about the need to tackle drug addiction this session. She described that treatment was a part of Senate Bill 91 that never came to fruition.

While the House majority may be pushing for a drug addiction treatment quickly, two members of the Senate majority are adopting more of a wait-and-see approach.

Sen. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, had heard about the idea of a $20 million package but wanted any funds for behavioral health invested as effectively as possible.

Earlier in the regular session Hughes had said she wanted to hear from the Department of Health and Social Services to develop a wish-list of programs to fund over the interim.

Wasilla Republican Senator David Wilson sounded similarly reticent. He described that he would prefer that funds given for treatment be distributed to the DHSS instead of the State deciding which grantees were awarded funds.

Editor's correction: An earlier version of this article referred to 1,000 outpatient beds rather than slots. Not all outpatient treatment options need beds

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