Kodiak’s annual commercial fishing trade show ComFish kicks off in-person and virtually on Thursday, March 16. The event brings together fishermen, lawmakers, scientists and vendors to discuss and celebrate Alaska’s fisheries, but this year’s event also highlights public health.
Daily forums aimed at identifying and reversing an opioid overdose are new to this year’s ComFish schedule. Each forum will include CPR training and instructions on how to use the overdose-reversing drug naloxone, which is known by the brand name Narcan.
Shanna Rockenbach is the wellness program supervisor for the Kodiak Area Native Association, and one of the organizers of the trainings. She said ComFish is another opportunity to get crucial information to more people – including many from Kodiak’s commercial fishing fleet.
“And maybe we’ll reach one or two more people that were, like, adamant, ‘No, I don’t want this on my boat,’” said Rockenbach.
Overdose rates in Alaska from the deadly synthetic opioid fentanyl skyrocketed during the pandemic. And Kodiak was no exception. Last year, the island saw one of the largest fentanyl busts in the state, according to Alaska State Troopers. The state’s other biggest seizures took place in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Ketchikan, according to troopers.
Amy Butts is a public health nurse and team lead at the Kodiak Public Health Center. She’s the co-organizer of the ComFish trainings, and she’s teamed up with Rockenbach before for opioid outreach in the community. She’s been handing out Narcan as part of the state’s free Narcan distribution program, Project HOPE. She said getting those resources to the fishing industry is crucial.
“If you have an industry that’s prone to injuries, then you have opioids,” said Butts.
That can include prescriptions for pain, like Vicodin and Percocet. Butts says there’s been some progress – more businesses have contacted the health center asking for Narcan, or picked up emergency opioid kits through Project Gabe. Those kits were installed in seafood processing plants across Southeast last year.
Rochenbach said they hope the ComFish forums will reduce stigma – and ultimately save lives.
“It doesn’t mean that you’re allowing this to happen on your boat by carrying it,” said Rockenbach. “It just means that you’re going to have one more tool in your toolbox to help somebody else out there.”
There’s two Narcan trainings scheduled each day on Thursday and Friday at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Another is scheduled for Saturday morning, also at 11 a.m.