With heroin and opioid addiction issues reaching epic proportions in the state, Alaska Commissioner of Public Safety Walt Monegan sent letters to commercial fishing vessel owners operating in Alaska in August asking them to be vigilant in preventing opioid abuse and distribution.
It is in the best interest of every vessel owner, crew, their families and all Alaskans for the commercial fishing fleet to be free of opioid abuse, Monegan said. “All Alaskans have the right to work and live in safe and healthy environments, and it is time to reverse the destructive impact opioid abuse has had on our state, so I am reaching out to you to ask that you do your part to ensure that Alaska’s fishing crews are safe from the impact of opioid abuse.”
“We’re not singling out the fishing industry,” said Alaska Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten. “There are some really alarming statistics about overdose in Alaska,” he added. From 2009 through 2015, the number of heroin deaths throughout Alaska more than quadrupled, Cotten explained. That’s 50 percent higher than the national rate.
In the letter to vessel owners, Cotton said that “the fishing industry is only one of the industries in Alaska that may be affected by the opioid epidemic.
“The impacts of this epidemic affect fishing families, fishing communities and the safety of our men and women at sea,” he said. “Please help your crew be aware of the risks involved, including the risks to the lives of their fellow crewmen and the potential financial losses to the owners of the business.”
Gov. Bill Walker has decided to declare a public health crisis, and most people agree that this is not some small concern, Cotten said. “The governor has organized a cabinet team to deal with this issue and actually comes to all the meetings. We suggested this one outreach method, the letter.
Cotten and Bill Comer, deputy commissioner of public safety, said the focus of the letter was to encourage boat owners and fishermen to be vigilant about opioid abuse. The response to date has been good, they said. Cotton added he has heard personally from people in small fishing communities concerned about young people caught up in drugs, and how the issue is affecting family fishing businesses, where parents want to pass on their permits to their children.
In addition to stemming the tide of opioid use, the state hopes to get all people who are addicted to opioids into treatment.
For additional information on preventing opioid dependence, reducing addiction by recognizing and treating it, and saving lives by using the spray Naloxone go online to www.opioids.alaska.gov