Governor Walker driving multi-pronged response to opioid epidemic

Governor Bill Walker was joined by Chief Medical Officer and Division of Health Director Dr. Jay Butler at a press conference today to discuss the State Disaster Declaration he issued on Monday.

The Declaration authorizes the Commissioner and the State Medical Officer of the Department of Health and Social Services to establish a statewide Overdose Response Program. The program will help increase the distribution of naloxone to first responders and the general public.

Gov. Walker shows off the new naloxone kits which will be distributed as part of the Overdose Response Program

The governor has also created an Incident Command System for weekly updates on the opioid epidemic.

“Naloxone is not a cure-all, it’s like a tourniquet,” said Dr. Butler at the press conference. Dr. Butler stressed the need for increased education, access to long-term recovery, and monitoring of opioid prescriptions.

In 2012, Alaska’s prescription opioid pain reliever overdose death rate was more than double the national average. The heroin-associated overdose death rate in Alaska in 2012 was 50 percent above the national rate.

In his letter to President of the Senate Pete Kelly and Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon, the governor estimates the cost the program at a little over $4 million over the span of five years. The program will be funded through federal grants. A Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration grant will help over the costs of naloxone distribution. The program will not use any funds from the Disaster Relief Fund.

After his opening remarks at press conference, Gov. Walker signed Administrative Order 283 which states that all departments shall apply for state and federal grants to assist the State in combating opioid abuse.

Gov. Walker addressed the widespread opioid abuse in Alaska earlier this year. He introduced five steps to address the opioid crisis in Alaska during his Third State of State Address on January 18. According to Gov. Walker’s website, these steps are

  1. Limit the amount of opioids a doctor can prescribe, with some exceptions;
  2. Strengthen the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program to prevent patients from pill-shopping and identify providers who are overprescribing opioids;
  3. Give regulatory authority to classify illicit opioids as controlled substances as they emerge;
  4. Restrict the transport of illegal opioids and heroin into rural communities with improved screening and enforcement measures;
  5. And require licensed healthcare providers to complete opioid addiction education as part of their continuing education requirements.

Gov. Walker said his office would look at existing legislation and introduce new legislation as needed to carry out these steps. The governor modeled these steps after similar actions taken by Governor of Massachusetts Charlie Baker and Governor of Arizona Doug Ducey.

“We have taken a much more aggressive approach,” said Gov. Walker. “We are addressing this like we would a forest fire.”