The “opioid crisis,” as it has become known, is sweeping the nation. States and communities are struggling to find ways to accommodate those seeking treatment. On the Kenai Peninsula, treatment options are sparse. They’re even more scarce on the southern peninsula, but the gap in service isn’t going unnoticed. There may be more treatment options in the Homer area within the next year.
If you’re suffering from opioid addiction on the southern Kenai Peninsula, the road to sobriety has plenty of barriers. There are no dedicated detox facilities, and the only other option is the emergency room at the South Peninsula Hospital, which can only provide detox assistance if it’s medically necessary.
The Central Peninsula Hospital in Soldotna, 75 miles away, does plan to open a detox facility in the coming weeks, and it operates a residential treatment program, the only one on the peninsula.
But, other roadblocks, such as transportation and available space, stand in the way of many trying to get clean.
“It’s like a parking lot. You hope you pull into the parking lot as someone is pulling out. Otherwise, there’s not going to be a space for you. The spaces are very limited and they fill up very quickly,” said Jay Bechtol, CEO at South Peninsula Behavioral Health in Homer.
Bechtol took over Behavioral Health, which is not directly associated with the South Peninsula Hospital, in January. Bechtol and his staff would like to help fill some of the gaps in treatment services.
“I think one of the things we’d be looking at is developing a program that would be either an in-patient or an out-patient or a combination rehab program,” he explained.
Currently, Behavioral Health, or The Center as it’s commonly called, does offer intake assessments to anyone who comes through the door. The assessments determine what type of care clients need, but The Center only treats drug or alcohol addiction if it’s a secondary issue to a mental health diagnosis.
Bechtol, his staff and The Center’s board of directors are looking to change that as part of its strategic plan. They will be evaluating the possibility of a treatment program through the end of September, and like most medical endeavors, it will be incredibly expensive.
“It sounds kind of crass, but it is a little bit of a numbers game. Do you have the service and the money to back it up? That’s what we’re trying to determine right now,” Bechtol said.
It could cost about $1 million just to get the program off the ground. Bechtol explains that price tag could fluctuate depending on the direction they decide to go, but he thinks there may be enough federal and state money to move forward. If The Center does implement a program, Bechtol said significant progress could happen by next summer.
But, in the meantime, the need for other treatment services remains high. There are no dedicated sober living homes in Homer for those transitioning back to daily life, and the lack of a detox facility remains a problem. Bechtol recognizes the gaps and acknowledges The Center can’t fill them all.
“I can walk into any room in this town and ask people to raise their hands if they’ve known someone that has been affected by drugs or alcohol, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who hasn’t been,” he said. “I don’t think that’s specific to Homer. I think that’s specific to the United States in general right now.”
Gov. Bill Walker has also been working to reduce opioid addiction. Walker formed a task force to handle the issue and made a disaster declaration in February. Walker signed House Bill 159 Tuesday, limiting the amount of pills that can be prescribed at one time.
The state Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program also began requiring medical providers and pharmacies to track the number of opioids prescriptions this month.
Hard numbers will become public in the coming months, but so far this year, the division estimates just under 31,000 prescriptions have been dispensed on the Kenai Peninsula and about 275,000 have been given out across the state.