Dillingham Deals With Recent Opioid Overdoses, Shares Resources for Emergencies and Prevention

The Dillingham community is in mourning after three overdose emergencies last week, which resulted in two hospitalizations and one death. Each incident involved opioids. Emergency personnel who responded to the calls administered the overdose reversal drug Narcan, saving at least one person’s life.

Gregg Marxmiller is the coordinator of outreach and education at SURE, Bristol Bay Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault Resource Center and Shelter. He said they are focused on overdose prevention strategies.

“We need to find ways to improve our community or make our community better so that people don’t want to do drugs and deal with the trauma – the pain that people have suffered and continue to suffer.” he said.

SAFE offers a 24-hour helpline as well as resources to connect people with substance use disorders to care. Marxmiller said SAFE can also help people navigate administrative systems to get the help they need. They are also distributing a survey to learn more about the needs of the community.

Opioids are drugs that act on protein receptors in the body and reduce the respiratory drive. Dillingham EMT Malcolm Wright said that means if a person eats too much, the body forgets to breathe. Narcan helps the body to remember.

“If enough Narcan is administered to counteract the amount of opioid in the person’s system, the person will regain respiratory drive and therefore overcome the danger,” he said.

Overdose deaths in Alaska, and across the United States, have skyrocketed in recent years. The Center for Disease Control reported that between 2020 and 2021 Alaska had the largest increase in overdose deaths in the country. Authorities say synthetic opioids like fentanyl are the most common drugs implicated in these deaths. Currently, a statewide effort aims to distribute overdose reversal kits and raise awareness, even in the Bristol Bay region.

Wright said anyone in the community can keep a Narcan kit on hand, just in case.

“It’s nice to have, like a fire extinguisher. It’s something that people can have in their personal first aid kit,” she said.

Narcan kits are available free of charge from Dillingham. People can pick them up at the fire department, port office, pharmacy and hospital through the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Program. Narcan will soon also be available in SAFE.

Wright said if you suspect someone is overdosing, call 911 immediately. Make sure you and those around you are safe before checking to see if the person is breathing. If they are not, start CPR and administer Narcan. If you do not have a CPR mask and you suspect that a person has smoked or ingested a substance by mouth, stick to hands-only CPR.

Several local entities have opportunities for people to talk about wellness and process traumatic experiences. The Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation currently hosts weekly talk circles focusing on general wellness, healing and recovery for members of the community. Monday meetings are held on Zoom at 10 a.m. Tuesday Wellbiety meetings are usually held at 6 p.m. at the Curyung tribal council building, but are held virtually on the first Tuesday of each month.

The health corporation is holding a community meeting this afternoon on overdose prevention where they will distribute Narcan kits and provide training on how to use them. The meeting will be held in the Dillingham High School gym at 5:00 p.m.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder, you can get help at Dillingham’s safe haven at (907) 842-2320. The SAFE listen line is (800) 478-2316.

You can also contact Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation access to care. substance use disorder program here. The corporation includes resources for accessing help in communities throughout the region.

Overdose kits are available at Kanakanak Hospital at (907) 842-5201 and the Dillingham Fire Department at (907) 842-2288.

Contact the author at [email protected] or 907-842-2200.