2023 was Alaska’s deadliest year for opioid overdoses — and the state saw the highest increase in deaths in the nation

Last year, Alaska broke a grim record: More people in the state died from opioid overdoses in 2023 than any previous year, the Alaska Department of Health reported. Alaska.

Additionally, the rise in overdose deaths in Alaska between November 2022 and November 2023 was the largest year-over-year increase in the nation, according to preliminary data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The state saw a nearly 40% increase in deaths in 2023 compared to the previous year — the vast majority due to fentanyl, the highly potent synthetic opioid that has ravaged the state. In 2023, 342 fatal overdoses were reported.

“This is a heartbreaking historic record for the state of Alaska,” Lindsey Kato, director of the Alaska Division of Public Health, said Thursday.

She attributed the increase to the increased prevalence of fentanyl in the drug supply amid a recent deadly surge in the western United States that followed a similar rise on the East Coast.

After Alaska, Oregon and Washington reported the second and third highest increases in overdose deaths in the country between November 2022 and November 2023, according to CDC data.

Overdose deaths in Alaska have been high for several years: in 2022, 247 fatal drug overdoses occurred in Alaska, compared to 255 in 2021, with fentanyl responsible for the majority of these deaths.

Alaska is “just seeing the true implications of fentanyl in our illicit drug supply,” Kato said.

Fentanyl is popular because it is cheap and has a strong effect. It is easy to overdose because of its extreme potency: it is 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine. It is sold in pill form or added to illicit drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin.

Kato said the prolonged increase in overdose deaths in Alaska last year hit Anchorage hardest — and Alaska Native men ages 35 to 45 experienced the highest death rate .

She said she has also heard anecdotally of an increase in emergency room visits related to opioid overdoses and that the state will soon have additional data to share.

She said many overdoses involve more than one drug, with methamphetamines topping the list.

Alaskans involved in drug treatment and prevention say the focus has been on distributing fentanyl test strips, as well as training on the use of naloxone, a nasal spray that can be used to treat a known or suspected opioid overdose.

Last year, the state’s Project HOPE distributed more than 46,000 free naloxone kits, Kato said. The reversal medication is also available over-the-counter at most pharmacies for about $45, she said.

“Without these (kits), it’s difficult to know how many overdose deaths would have occurred,” she said.

Kato said she is hopeful about the prevention efforts underway in the state.

(Exchange funds or add services? There is deep disagreement over the government’s use of opioid settlement funds.)

Alaska is expected to receive approximately $58 million in national opioid settlement funds over the next two decades. About $3 million of those funds are now available for nonprofits and local governments to apply to support opioid remediation strategies statewide, the department announced Thursday.

Further information on how to apply for the program was available on the department’s website.

Health officials say Alaskans should not use more than the prescribed amount of a prescription opioid. Authorities also say Alaskans should not mix opioids with alcohol, methamphetamines or cocaine, and should test any illicit substances for fentanyl using test strips.

Officials also recommend that Alaskans check to see if their friends or loved ones regularly use drugs and always carry naloxone, which is associated with a 93% survival rate for overdose victims.

If a person has overdosed, the person responding should call 911, administer CPR and then naloxone.

For a list of organizations that can distribute naloxone kits and fentanyl test strips, click here or email To access help with treatment options in Alaska, call 988.

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News Source :
Gn Health

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