A new public health program is bringing health training and opioid education to Kodiak. The event is called Brave Communities; attendees will learn about addiction, how to dispose of their household drugs properly – and what to do if someone overdoses.
Shanna Rockenbach is the wellness program supervisor for the Kodiak Area Native Association, one of the event organizers. She’s also the state of Alaska’s subregional training coordinator for emergency medical services.
“We really wanted to get people talking about what’s going on, give them education and then give them the tools that they need to make an impact,” she said. “It can be anybody from someone who is struggling with addiction or a family member or someone who is concerned in the community.”
What’s going on is a surge in drug overdoses statewide driven by the synthetic opioid fentanyl. Last year, Alaska saw the biggest increase in drug overdose deaths in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rockenbach says it’s a worrying trend.
“Our numbers had remained steady across the state for the last couple years and then took a sharp turn in 2021, the first couple months this year, they were higher than they had been in the previous 10 years,” said Rockenbach.
Amy Butts is a public health nurse and Kodiak Team Lead for the Kodiak Public Health Center, which is co-hosting the event.
She says traces of fentanyl have been turning up in more types of drugs – making overdoses more widespread. There were 16 overdoses reported in Kodiak last year, according to Butts – although she estimates that the actual number is higher than what’s being reported.
“So the true number of overdoses, right now that’s hard to gauge because how many people are using the Narcan and not seeking care?” said Butts.
Narcan is the brand name for naloxone – the drug that reverses opioid overdoses.
Butts has been walking the docks, handing out Narcan to skippers and in bars around downtown Kodiak as part of Project HOPE – the state of Alaska’s free Narcan distribution program.
Butts is also in the process of ordering opioid emergency kits for businesses in downtown through Project Gabe – a new Department of Health program rolled out in seafood processing plants in Southeast Alaska earlier this year.
At the Brave Communities event on Wednesday, attendees will receive dry bags filled with items like a CPR mask, first aid kits, fentanyl test strips – and Narcan. And they’ll learn how to administer the life-saving drug.
Butts says the class will be the first of many.
“We’re hoping this will continue and be something that will go on for a long time and we will continue to do in the future, not just one big event and we’re done,” she said.
Butts and Rockenbach are already planning another Brave Communities event in the fall, and they’re hoping to schedule another during Kodiak’s commercial fishing trade show ComFish next spring.
The Brave Communities event runs from 3 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, July 27 in the Sun’aq Tribe Bingo Hall in downtown Kodiak. The event is free to the public. Attendees can register on Healthy Kodiak’s website. Walk-ins are also welcome.