April sees increase in patients seen for fentanyl-related issues in Southcentral

April sees increase in patients seen for fentanyl-related issues in Southcentral
Published: Apr. 13, 2023 at 4:28 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Anchorage and the Mat-Su have seen a spike in overdoses from fentanyl during the month of April.

This trend reflects a growing crisis across the country that has lawmakers scrambling to create new laws to stop the spread of the deadly drug, which is often unknowingly found in other drugs used intentionally.

Providence Alaska’s external communication senior manager Mikal Canfield confirmed the increase in an email.

“Although we are not able to provide an exact number, over the last month there has definitely been an increase in patients who have used fentanyl and have come to the hospital for treatment,” Canfield wrote in an email. “The majority of these cases have involved intentional drug use, but not necessarily intentional fentanyl use.”

Tracking the exact number of fentanyl deaths or overdoses can be difficult — some people don’t seek treatment in a hospital, some deaths are intentional — and it takes up to four months to verify the cause of death due to testing, according to the state.

“The best estimate is that there were approximately 164 [emergency department] visits for opioid overdoses in 2023 so far in Anchorage and Mat-Su Valley residents. There are several different ways of looking at possible fentanyl overdoses. The best estimate is between 20 and 62 fentanyl overdoses during that time in Anchorage and the Mat-Su,” Shirley Young, the director of communications for the Alaska Department of Health, wrote in an email.

Last week, Alaska State Troopers in the Mat-Su Valley issued a public safety announcement after several overdose deaths already this month.

“While DPS can potentially provide the number of Alaska State Trooper overdose responses, this would miss a large number of reports that are only made to area fire/EMS for response and the number that are only known to hospital emergency departments,” AST Communications Director Austin McDaniel wrote in an email.

According to troopers, three people have died from drug overdoses and 11 others have experienced overdose emergencies since April 1 in the Mat-Su. Troopers believe the cases are related to the circulation of drugs that contain fentanyl.

The Centers for Disease Control describe a spike in fentanyl usage in Alaska among people who are aged 14-18.

“There are many more intentional overdose events in this age group, typically on prescribed psychiatric medications or over-the-counter medications,” Dr. Michael Jurasek from the CDC Foundation wrote.

This week the Anchorage School District warned of an increase in overdoses by students. District officials say five students have overdosed on fentanyl since the first of the year, during school hours, but off school grounds.

“I thought five was a lot,” ASD Health Services Director Kathy Bell said.

ASD now has the opioid overdose drug naloxone in kits at all of its schools, including elementary schools. This week district principals learned how to put the kits together.

“We’re worried about our staff, we’re worried about people — maybe in the community, in your school, parents, anybody — we just want it to be a safe environment and we want to help whoever we can,” Bell said.