Alaska receives federal grant for overdose death review panel

Image Source: MGN
Image Source: MGN(KALB)
Published: Oct. 11, 2018 at 10:25 PM AKDT
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Alaska's attorney general announced Thursday that close to $1 million in grant funds will go towards improving investigation and prosecution efforts around opioid-related overdose deaths.

For a mother who lost her son, and a man who lost his best friend, this is a step in the right direction.

Karl Soderstrom is the executive director of True North Recovery Services, a non-profit addiction treatment center in Wasilla. He considers himself a person in long-term recovery.

"For me that means today I get to be sober,” Soderstrom said.

He says too many people have experienced loss from opioid-related overdose deaths.

"Losing people to the disease of addiction and overdose is the worst feeling in the world,” he said. “No family should have to go through that. No community should have to go through that. And even worse, not having closure, not having an explanation."

Soderstrom says the federal funding to improve investigation and prosecution of opioid overdose deaths is a long time coming.

"This is the biggest public health crisis in our nation,” he said. “And we're underfunded, and we're behind the times, and we're not stepping up to the plate to do anything about it... Until now."

Karen Malcolm lost her son Dylan to an overdose in June of 2017. She says she wishes police had conducted a more thorough investigation.

"I know that they treated it as just a regular OD (overdose), and the drug dealer that was with him at the time,” Malcolm said. “Based on the police reports and the first responder reports, we believe that this man was with him when he died and didn't call 9-1-1. And then the police didn't question him, and they allowed him to call me and tell me my son had died. And let him go."

Deputy Attorney General Robert Henderson says under Alaska state law, those who deal drugs to people who then overdose on those drugs can be charged with manslaughter. But, he says, that hasn't stopped overdose rates from quadrupling in the last several years.

"And that's just not acceptable. We can't stand by and let that happen,” Henderson said. “So we have to have treatment be a key part of that, but we also have to have prosecution a key part of that.”

Channel 2 spoke with Henderson Thursday at an Overdose Death Investigation and Prosecution Training presented by Alaska Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth.

“And that's what this training is about is how do we prosecute drug traffickers for the deaths that they cause?" he said.

Karen Malcolm says she knows police have their hands full with opioid abuse, but she hopes this grant funding will prompt even more action in the future.

"I hope that our state gets more funding that can accommodate this really serious matter that's taking in a generation and destroying families," she said.

Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth said in a statement Thursday, "Just as we are holding manufacturers accountable for their fraudulent marketing of opioids, we need to hold drug traffickers accountable for the deaths they cause."

The federal grant funds will be administered over three years to establish an Overdose Death Review Panel.