The state Office of Substance Misuse and Addiction is making the rounds around the state to get a better idea of how communities are handling opioid and heroin addiction.
Misuse and Addiction and state opioid task force representatives stopped in Homer Wednesday for a five-hour community discussion. Homer area residents gathered in groups to discuss prevention and response to opioid issues in the community, their perceptions of the issue and what factors make it unique in Homer.
Eleana Habib is an addiction specialist with the Office of Misuse and Addiction.
“Community discussions about what are the strengths, opportunities and barriers specifically in regards to the state,” Habib explained, “what is the state doing well, what is keeping folks from really doing these efforts in order to inform the statewide plan.”
The state has already held meetings in Nome, Dillingham and Utqiagvik. It plans to visit 13 communities in all, and the input will be aggregated into the state’s opioid action plan, which it plans to release in August.
Habib said the information collected from each meeting will also be shared among the participating communities.
“Because in large part I think what we’ve seen is there are so many efforts going on across Alaska, but they differ so much from one another,” Habib said. “To be able to share that with other communities and get folks on board with, ‘Hey, Homer is doing this, you can try this, or Dillingham tried this out, what do you think of that?’ Then we can really work together as a state to from the bottom up, to really fight the opioid epidemic.”
State representatives also met with local Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships, or MAPP, opioid task force members. The task force formed last summer, and it has been working to assess the opioid problem in Homer for months.
Task force member and South Peninsula Hospital spokesperson Derotha Ferraro has been trying to collect data specific to Homer along with several other medical stakeholders. She said that data has been hard to come by, but after meeting with state officials, Ferraro learned the state is working to change that.
“They are starting a portal that is data that we can use to inform local decisions, do grant applications, etc,” Ferraro added. “They get it. They understand the hurdle there.”
Ferraro said information from the meeting in Homer and other meetings around the state will inform the task force’s work.
The office of Misuse and Addiction has meetings planned in Juneau later this month and in Bethel in early April. It also plans to set dates for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Fairbanks and Anchorage in the coming months.