The fastest-growing region in Alaska is also experiencing a rapid increase in heroin addiction, and a dearth of professional detox resources has left many to deal with painful withdrawal symptoms on their own.
Accoording to the Alaska Dispatch News, Matanuska-Susitna Valley, colloquially known as Mat-Su, is currently in the midst of what one Alaska state trooper described as “a huge rise in heroin.” Despite the drug’s widespread usage, there is still only one small detoxification center in all of Mat-Su.
This lone option is the Ernie Turner Center, a 14-bed inpatient detox treatment facility operated by Cook Inlet Tribal Council in Anchorage. As one may expect, 14 beds is a drop in the bucket compared to how many addicts seek detox treatment on a daily basis.
“Sixty people call every day for a detox bed,” said Rebecca Ling, the Council’s director for recovery services. “It sounds a little strange for us to tell someone to call back tomorrow, because who goes on a waitlist when you need detox?”
Detox involves clearing one’s system of a chemical dependence to drugs or alcohol. While doctors say that alcohol detox can potentially be life-threatening, heroin detox is not viewed this way.
Mat-Su Regional Medical Center, the only hospital in the Valley, will only admit patients suffering from alcohol withdrawal, excluding those addicted to heroin or other drugs. Detox experts think that this is a primary reason that so many struggle to free themselves from addiction, and medically-supervised detoxification is the best way to ensure long-term sobriety.
“A medically supervised heroin detox is a critical first step to breaking the cycle of drug dependence,” says Arnold Hesnod, Clinical Outreach, Clear Sky Recovery. “Aftercare is essential, but if a patient is going through acute withdrawals or suffering from PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome), they are not physically in a position to think and reason, they’re in the throes of active addiction.”
While Mat-Su is dealing with a concentrated heroin issue, the problem is much more pervasive than one may assume. According to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World, opiates, mainly heroin, account for an estimated 18% of all admissions for drug and alcohol treatment in the United States.
Considering heroin detox accounts for almost one-fifth of all rehabilitation visits, it’s surprising that Mat-Su has yet to invest proper resources into helping its addicted residents. For now, those on the waiting list for detox will have to cross their fingers and hope they still want treatment by the time the phone rings again.