Alaska issues public health alert following uptick in heroin overdoses

Updated: Jun. 7, 2021 at 4:32 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska’s Department of Health and Social Services issued a public health alert Monday in response to a recent increase in opioid overdoses.

Data in the alert shows heroin overdose-related emergency department visits from March 1 through May 29 of this year more than doubled, compared to the same time frame in 2020.

While the data includes emergency departments across the state, the Anchorage/Matanuska-Susitna, Southeast and Gulf Coast regions saw the most substantial increase, according to the alert.

The data shows that between March 1 and May 29, there were 113 emergency department visits across the state that involved a heroin diagnoses, with 70 visits, or 62%, involving male patients. The patients’ ages ranged from 18 to 66, with the median age being 34.

“While the reasons for this recent spike in heroin-involved overdose ED visits are not yet known, possibilities could include an increase in the supply, purity, or potency of available heroin,” the alert stated. “Other reasons may include reduced tolerance at the time of use and a change in the method of use (e.g. injection versus inhalation). Many heroin-involved overdoses also include additional substances, often unknown to the user, such as fentanyl and methamphetamine.”

RELATED: Drug overdoses are spiking in Alaska; public health officials are trying to understand why

During a video conference news briefing on Thursday, Alaska Chief Medical Officer Dr. Anne Zink pointed to opioid overdose data from 2019 that shows Naloxone was only administered in 10% of overdoses, while 53% of overdoses happened in the presence of a bystander.

“The big thing that I take away from this is the importance of getting Naloxone out in as many ways as possible,” Zink said.

Narcan, a brand name for Naloxone, is a nasal medication that can be administered by anyone in order to stop an overdose.

Supplies such as Narcan kits, fentanyl test strips and safe medication disposal resources can be ordered through the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Substance Abuse Program’s website,

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