Coalition plans walk-a-thon for addiction awareness

A group of locals will brave the fall chill Friday night to show their support for efforts to curb addiction on the central Kenai Peninsula.

The Stand Against Addiction Walk-a-Thon will bring a group of Kenai Peninsula residents out to Soldotna to walk a course from the Serenity House intake building on Binkley Street to Soldotna Creek Park. Music, speeches and a lights display will raise awareness for those recovering from addiction, said Shari Conner, one of the organizers through the nonprofit coalition Change 4 the Kenai.

September is National Recovery Month, coordinated through the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, focusing on awareness and understanding of mental and substance abuse disorders. Similarly, October is Substance Abuse Prevention Month, promoting community involvement in preventing substance abuse.

Conner said the coalition wanted to organize an event to commemorate the awareness months and to keep the community informed the coalition is still working to combat addiction.

“We really want to do activities like the walk to keep people aware and keep that momentum going,” she said.

Change 4 the Kenai hosted two days of town hall meetings in May in Kenai, attracting hundreds of community members to hear and discuss the causes and effects of opioid addiction on the peninsula. Conner said she was pleased with the turnout and the coalition plans to follow up in the future with more town halls on specific topics related to addiction and how to address it.

The walk-a-thon is technically a fundraiser, though anyone can participate whether or not they had pledged. Pledges can come in any amount and go to support the coalition and fulfill a community support requirement for some of the grants the members apply for, she said.

“Right now, I think we have $600 raised,” Conner said. “We’ll have some other fundraisers here in the future.”

As of Tuesday, about 40 people had signed up to walk, she said. Participants will take off from Serenity House’s intake building at 245 N. Binkley Street at 6 p.m. When they arrive at Soldotna Creek Park, they will listen to speakers talk about addiction and recovery as well as live music. They’ll also decorate stones that will be placed in Serenity House’s stone garden, Conner said. Kaladi’s donated coffee for the event and Three Bears donated cookies, and the participants will light luminaria in the park to raise awareness for the fight against opioid addiction.

Although there is no mandatory donation, the organizers will present prizes to the top three fundraisers, Conner said.

“It goes to support the community support for Change 4 the Kenai, and it shows the state funders that our community is invested in Serenity House and Change 4 the Kenai and recovery,” she said.

In recent years, addiction to heroin and prescription painkillers has grown dramatically across Alaska. In 2012, the state’s opioid overdose death rate was more than twice the national rate, and the heroin-associated overdose death rate was more than 50 percent higher than the national rate. Between 2009 and 2015, 774 drug overdose deaths were entered into the Alaska mortality database, according to a March 24 State of Alaska Epidemiology Bulletin.

Organizations on both the state and local level have mustered to brainstorm potential solutions. According to the Alaska Opioid Policy Task Force’s website, the state convened the task force “to address the rising incidence of heroin and opioid abuse in Alaska” in May, bringing together experts from law enforcement, local government, health care, government and the Legislature. In the Kenai Peninsula Borough, the borough’s Healthcare Task Force is preparing recommendations for how to better align resources to combat addiction on the peninsula.

Citizens have also come together on their own to develop resources. One transitional living facility for men, Nuk’it’un, opened this summer on Kalifornsky Beach Road, and several other locals are looking at opening facilities. Central Peninsula Hospital is currently in the process of renovating a building it purchased last year in Soldotna into a transitional living facility for those recovering from addiction.

Conner said the coalition’s members have looked at offering classes through Soldotna’s Community Schools program to help education the public on some of the aspects of addiction as well.

“(We’re looking at classes on) what do you do if you suspect your child is using, et cetera,” she said. “…It kind of shows youth what happens if they get started.”

Those who want to participate in the Walk-A-Thon can sign up on the coalition’s website, change4kenai.org. Those who want to contribute but not walk can also donate to participants on the website. The walk begins at 6 p.m. and the event goes until 8 p.m.

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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