Alaska receives $2M grant to combat opioid abuse as state reports increased drug overdose deaths

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - The State of Alaska is set to receive $2 million in federal grant money to help combat the opioid epidemic in the Last Frontier.

The funds come from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Social Services and are set to be distributed immediately by the federal agency to support prevention, treatment, and recovery services in the 49th state.

"One of the great things about this money is there's some flexibility," said Jay Butler, Chief Medical Officer for the State of Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services. "So we can look at what are some of the gaps we need to fill in."

The announcement from Gov. Bill Walker comes the same day as a newly-released report from the State of Alaska Section of Epidemiology, which sheds even more light on the severity of Alaska's drug overdose problem: The overdose death rate in the Last Frontier has increased yet again.

"This shows that the opioid epidemic is in no way over," Butler said. "Situational awareness is critical, just as it would be if this were some sort of infectious disease epidemic."

In 2015, the opioid overdose death rate in the Last Frontier was higher than the national rate. One year later, driven primarily by heroin and other illicit drugs, Alaska's drug overdose death rate jumped another five percent.

Updated data also demonstrates a fourfold increase in overdose deaths in Alaska, as compared to 2005.

In 2016, 128 drug overdose deaths were reported in Alaska. Of those deaths, 95 involved opioids, whether prescription, heroin, or other, and 49 involved heroin specifically.

Population data by race were reportedly not available, so 2015 estimates were used for that portion of the data.

Age-based data, however, was available in 2016. Notably, numbers demonstrate higher death rates in a younger age group (25- to 34-year-olds) as well as higher rates among Gulf Coast residents.

"If this were easy, it would've already been done," Butler said. "Even looking at it as an epidemic, it is fairly complex, and it requires not just that multi-phase, multi-pronged approach, but also multi-sectoral.

"It's not just a criminal justice issue," he said. "It takes all parts of society to be able to address it."

A release from the governor's office said the administration is currently working to identify which programs and services will be receiving funds from the grant.