Council discusses ways to combat opioid addiction | Local News

Other topics on the agenda were homelessness/housing, Berth 3, the Community Grant Agency committee, tax reform, strategic planning, the possible hiring of a tourism manager and mayor/council term limits.

No official votes were taken at Saturday’s meeting.

The opioid issue was placed on the agenda by the City of Ketchikan mayor, Dave Kiffer.

Kiffer started the meeting by explaining its purpose.

Over time, Kiffer said, people have come up with a variety of topics of interest to the community.

“I thought it would be a good idea to remove those from the general chaos of a normal council meeting when things are happening, we’re making decisions, and sort of give the council a chance to talk about some of these issues,” Kiffer said.

Council Member Abby Bradberry began the opioid discussion by describing what she has learned from sitting in on the Ketchikan Wellness Coalition’s Prevention-Intervention-Education-Recovery-Support Task Force meetings.

She said that the PIERS Task Force has been working diligently on education for youth, on supporting the Ketchikan Re-entry Coalition and in partnership with Residential Youth Care and regarding Ketchikan Indian Community opioid misuse issues.

KIC is working on building a detox center, Bradberry said, and suggested that the council consider ways the city could support that project.

She said that, as was mentioned by KWC representatives in previous meetings, the organization still could use help in getting information out to the community.

Kiffer said that it was mentioned in earlier meetings that the city could use Ketchikan Public Utilities as a way to help spread messaging about substance abuse.

Bradberry also mentioned an upcoming program that the Ketchikan Police Department is putting together with KWC called “Hidden in Plain Sight.”

According to information at centerforprevention.org, that program is a 60-minute live virtual experience intended to educate parents and people who work with youth on how to spot clues to substance use. It also includes preventative tips, resources and tools for adults dealing with children using or potentially using drugs.

Council Member Lallette Kistler asked whether there is one “umbrella” organization to pull all of the efforts together. Kiffer answered that the KWC PIERS Task Force fulfilled that role.

Bradberry added that people from many involved organizations sit in on the task force, including KIC, the Ketchikan Correctional Center, PeaceHealth Ketchikan Medical Center and the Ketchikan School District.

Council Member Janalee Gage said that she had been a part of the task force for several years and confirmed that almost every agency working with substance abuse issues in town has a representative at the task force’s meetings.

Gage also mentioned the free advertising options that agencies could employ, such as Public Service Announcement spots over the radio.

In reference to the “In Plain Sight” program, Gage said that she thinks that there should be a mention of the dangers of parents and other adults who “normalize” youth using alcohol and marijuana.

“Oh we did it, we’re fine,” is an attitude that should be changed, Gage said.

There also was discussion about the importance of adding used needle disposal containers around town, and possibly starting a needle exchange program.

Council Member Jai Mahtani said that needle drop boxes are definitely needed in town. He said that on Friday someone had collected 78 used needles that had been tossed to the ground between Berths 2 and 3.

Several council members could be heard quietly voicing their dismay at his statement.

“It’s an epidemic,” Mahtani said. “We need to start making sure that we control it and hopefully can control the fact of people getting injured by these needles, as well.”

Kiffer mentioned that there is a need for Narcan kits to be more widely distributed locally.

Bradberry mentioned that KWC has been hosting clinics to train people how to properly use Narcan kits and has been distributing “tons of supplies” to local businesses. All of the training is free, she noted.

Kistler shared her knowledge of needle exchange programs.

“It’s not just a place where you go, ‘Oh, you go and you get fresh needles, alright!'” she said.

She emphasized that needle exchange programs aren’t a place where drug users can go to feel accepted for their lifestyle choices, but they are places where people can go not only for fresh, safe needles but also where counselors, resources and education are available.

“It can be very effective,” she added, “because there could be that … person wants to get out and doesn’t know how. All they’re around is the people that are enabling them, and, if they go to a place like that and they find that information there, that could be the impetus for them to get out of the life.”

She also pointed out that there are several “great people in town” who have recovered with similar support.

“It’s hope,” Kistler said.

Council Member Mark Flora shared his reservations about a needle exchange program versus simple needle drop boxes.

“I’m a little conflicted about it, because while there needs to be a path forward and a way out, I would think part of the definition of a needle exchange program is firing, because in a no-pressure, no-judgment environment — that’s the other side of that,” Flora said.

He said that he would like to see statistics on the efficacy of such a program, as he felt unsure about whether it would be a good choice for Ketchikan.

Flora added, “I’m sure we want to do the smart and compassionate thing, and this is kind of a new topic.”

Council Member Riley Gass said that he was a “little weary” of the issue, although he is eager to take steps to help.

“With people nonchalantly throwing their dirty needles on the streets when they’re passing up garbage cans, are they really going to take time to go to a garbage can that’s for needles only?” he asked.

“I worry a lot … On one hand, you want to do something, but on the other hand, it’s like we’re just kind of making it more normal,” he added.

Gage pointed out that people who are addicted will not “get clean” until they are ready.

“There’s merit and then there’s proof that the needle exchange program with a proper program of advocacy, where every time they go in they get some form of ‘Hey, are you ready?'” she said.

There also is benefit from investing in protecting that population from diseases than can be contracted from the use of dirty needles, Gage said, as sick people are a burden on the local medical system.

“I get the concept of (needle exchange programs) as a way of condoning the behavior,” Gage said, but, she added, there is also a huge benefit to offering clients a path to getting clean.

“It’s a building of trust,” she said.

Kiffer said that he would like to hear a perspective on needle exchange programs from KWC representatives.

Bradberry asked that city representatives reach out to KIC to see how the city could support the organization’s detox center project.

Ketchikan City Clerk Kim Stanker told council members that an upcoming meeting of the borough/city cooperative relations committee is scheduled to consider a resolution concerning support of the KIC detox center project.

“It is on the table,” she said.

No formal actions were taken concerning the opioid topic during the meeting.

Articles on the remaining topics discussed at Saturday’s meeting are planned for future editions of the Daily News.

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