Greg interviews Dr. Jay Butler, the Chief Medical Officer and Director of the Division of Public Health at the Alaska Department of Health and Human Services. He is also the Chairman of the Alaska Opioid Policy Task Force, a partnership between the Alaskan Advisory Board on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse, Mental Health Trust, and the Department of Health and Social Services, aiming to combat the rising incidence of heroin and opioid abuse in Alaska.

Greg asks Dr. Butler about why Governor Bill Walker declared a state of emergency for the opioid epidemic in Alaska. Dr. Butler explains that there were two drivers that led to the Governor making an official emergency declaration, the first of which being  a need to move ahead on Alaska Project HOPE – HOPE standing for Harm-Reduction Overdose Prevention Education. “A key part of this program was the distribution of naloxone as a part of a rescue kit. This rescue kit included the pre-packaged naloxone nasal spray, some gloves, an airway barrier, as well as instructions on how to administer the drug and what to do… Our initial plan for the Project HOPE was working with tribal organizations and law enforcement agencies. But it became apparent that we really needed a much broader outreach and while these other organizations have the medical direction to be able to provide prescriptive authority, we realized that we really needed a state-wide standing order – and that authority didn’t currently exist in statute. So the disaster declaration provided the opportunity for the governor to do that under an administrative order so that we could launch the program pending passage in the state legislature.” The other driver, Dr. Butler remarks, was improving collaboration.  “We had some standing groups from the Alaska board on alcohol and drug abuse… but what we really needed to do was take action. So the governor was very open to creating an incident command structure, just as we would do if we were responding to a wildfire or a tsunami, and this brought together personnel from a number of different agencies…”

Listen to the podcast to discover how this state of emergency declaration works and how it has enabled Alaska to develop and carry out programs to help fight the opioid epidemic throughout the state.