Juneau’s downtown community health center will soon start offering an outpatient addiction treatment program.
Front Street Community Heath Center board president Carl Heine said treatment will be a combination of behavioral health counseling and medical assistance.
“There isn’t a magic pill and just talking about it doesn’t fix the problem. It’s kind of a combined approach and one of the things we’re trying to do at the clinic is have a behavioral health clinician that specializes in addiction counseling and couple that with — if it’s appropriate — medical treatment for addiction,” he said.
Heine said the health center envisions prescribing Narcan and Vivitrol, among other medicines used to manage addiction. Narcan is an overdose-prevention medication for someone who is suffering from an overdose of heroin or opiates, and Vivitrol is a shot that blocks the effects of alcohol and opiates. He credits Sen. Johnny Ellis (D-Anchorage) for Senate Bill 23. The bill, passed this session by the legislature and signed by the governor, makes it easier for people to get and administer Narcan.
“There is a huge need for that in town and we are happy to try to provide some of the services,” Heine said. “Addiction is race-blind, income-blind, social status-blind. It’s amazing how it touches every part of the community, every age range.”
As previously reported in the Empire, the heroin death toll in Alaska has quintupled since 2008, according to Alaska Bureau of Vital Statistics. In 2015, 31 people died from heroin (either as an underlying or contributing cause) in the state, seven of them in Juneau.
Front Street Community Health Center, previously known as Front Street Clinic, has traditionally catered to Juneau’s homeless and other vulnerable populations. Since transitioning from being under the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium to becoming its own nonprofit organization, the health center is open to anyone, including people with private insurance.
Still, most of its 300 patients are on expanded Medicaid, which has led to the health center’s financial stability. Front Street gets new patients every week and Heine hopes to ultimately serve between 500 and 600 people.
The health center currently provides primary medical care, behavioral health and case management. Heine said Front Street will start addiction treatment “as soon as we can” — it’s a matter of staffing and finding room in its existing downtown location.
With the help of a federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, the health center is looking to hire an additional medical care provider, behavioral health clinician and case manager for the addiction treatment program, said clinic coordinator Allison Hourigan.
“Our ability to provide primary medical care, medically-assisted treatment and behavioral health services all under one roof, and coordinate care in that way, could be a good advantage for folks who are coming to us for that need,” she said.
Front Street soon offering outpatient treatment is part of an effort among many community agencies — including Bartlett Regional Hospital, Rainforest Recovery, Gastineau Human Services and several others — to work together in fighting addiction and provide a continuum of care.
“Outpatient medical management for addiction was a hole that was identified and we’re trying to fill that,” Heine said. “That’s getting regular counseling along with medication, or whatever else is needed, to try to help people get through addiction issues.”
Juneau recovery coach Christina Love said Front Street offering medically-assisted treatment is “huge.”
“I think that it serves a great community need. There has been a gap for a long time,” she said.
While there are private doctors and medical providers in Juneau who provide medically-assisted treatment, Love said most of their case loads are full and they don’t often take new patients. The health center is a welcome new choice for addiction treatment.
“Part of being a recovery coach is empowering people and there’s nothing more empowering than giving people options, so we can say these are the different places you can go if you have money, if you don’t have money, if you have this much money,” she said.
Love said “it’s beautiful” to watch the community connect the dots between incarceration, mental health and substance abuse with different funding sources.
“There’s been a lot more community collaboration and figuring out how to serve this group of people that are falling through the cracks,” she said.