Project Gabe will partner with Alaska’s industries to prevent opioid overdose deaths


Shane Ersland


The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS) is launching a new initiative called Project Gabe this summer to provide opioid misuse awareness, education, and prevention resources to industrial workers.


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Project Gabe is named in honor of Gabe Johnston, who died of an opioid overdose in January, and was the son of Sitka Public Health nurse Denise Ewing.

Project Gabe uses the existing DHSS program, Project HOPE, to distribute naloxone, a medication that can reverse an opioid overdose, and fentanyl test strips, which can test for the presence of fentanyl in drugs, to working Alaskans.

The program is being implemented first within fisheries in Southeast Alaska by Public Health Nursing in partnership with the Office of Substance of Misuse and Addiction Prevention and members of the seafood industry.

Over time, the project will be expanded to include other industries and geographic regions.

“The majority of our workforce fits into the highest risk age group for drug overdose deaths – men who are 25-34 years old,” said Bill Grant, plant production manager at Sitka Sound Seafood. “We care about our people and are grateful to have the tools to do something about it in an emergency.”

Project Gabe will be providing education and naloxone free of charge through four key ways, including:

  • Installing opioid emergency boxes in common rooms within processing facilities, bunkhouses, and offices
  • Distributing water-resistant bags containing naloxone on fishing fleet vessels
  • Providing opioid overdose kits to individuals to keep on hand in any location
  • Partnering with industries to provide education to Alaska workers about the risks of opioids and substance misuse

“This project builds on work already being done throughout the state by delivering an important message directly through workplaces to working Alaskans,” Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink said. “Naloxone is safe to use and easy to administer. Project Gabe makes it even more accessible as time is critical in an overdose. Naloxone can save a life when used the right away, and we need to ensure it is widely available in every ship, every processor, every workplace in Alaska. Project Gabe is a critical step in that direction, sadly in memory of a young man gone too soon.”  

Ewing said the project will provide a way for her to help others as she grieves the loss of her son. 

“Gabe was bright, witty, opinionated, adventurous, and full of creative energy,” Ewing said. “He loved hunting, camping, fishing, and being outdoors. He was first introduced to drugs during his teenage years from a friend whose father had been prescribed pain medications. Unfortunately, Gabe became addicted after one pill, which led to more than 14 years of polysubstance abuse.”

This press release was provided by the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services.