Andy Jones, Director of the Department of Health and Social Services’ Office of Substance Misuse, right, speak about the fiscal impacts of the opioids on the state along with Michael Duxbury, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, center, and Laura Brooks, Director of Health and Rehabilitation for the Department of Corrections, in front of the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Andy Jones, Director of the Department of Health and Social Services’ Office of Substance Misuse, right, speak about the fiscal impacts of the opioids on the state along with Michael Duxbury, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, center, and Laura Brooks, Director of Health and Rehabilitation for the Department of Corrections, in front of the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

The opioid crisis costs Alaska more than $1B per year, and it’s going to keep being costly

Experts don’t have exact estimate, but say it goes beyond money

Senate Finance Committee meetings generally are heavy on numbers, but Co-Chair Sen. Natasha Von Imhof began Thursday morning’s meeting with a comment that went beyond statistics.

Von Imhof, a Republican from Anchorage, said she knows a family that lost a 42-year-old father of three to an accidental drug overdose recently.

“They’re planning his funeral now,” Von Imhof said, “so this is very real.”

For the next two hours, she and other senators listened to a presentation and asked questions about the costs of the opioid epidemic in Alaska. The main takeaways from experts at Thursday’s meeting was that this problem isn’t going away, and there isn’t an easy fix.

The overall economic impact of the opioid epidemic in Alaska, according to the McDowell Group, is about $1.2 billion per year.

The largest portion of that ($542 million), according to the 2017 McDowell study, is due to the “loss in productivity” due to drug use. The largest portion of that loss in productivity, $391 million, is due to premature death. Other major costs, according to the study, included traffic crashes ($396 million), criminal justice and protective services ($136 million), and health care ($134 million).

[State making progress in fight against opioid addiction]

The state’s opioid overdose death rate increased by 77 percent from 2010 to 2017, according to a State of Alaska Epidemiology Bulletin released in August 2018. From 2013-2017, the state’s opioid overdose death rate was 11.3 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the Department of Health and Social Services (DHSS).

Director of the DHSS Office of Substance Misuse Andy Jones — one of the presenters Thursday — has become one of the faces of the state’s response to the opioid epidemic, as he’s traveled all over the state leading informational sessions and gathering feedback. Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, asked Jones during Thursday’s meeting about whether he can make an estimate about what the economic impact might be in the next couple years.

Jones said it’s difficult to even make an educated guess.

“It’s a moving cycle,” Jones said. “If it’s not opioids, it’s going to be some other (drug).”

Department of Public Safety (DPS) Deputy Commissioner Michael Duxbury and Department of Corrections (DOC) Director of Health and Rehabilitation Laura Brooks were also presenting, and said it’s key for multiple state departments to collaborate in battling the epidemic.

Sen. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, asked Duxbury about committing more money to stopping the flow of drugs so the state could possibly save money on treatment by cutting down on the number of drugs available. Duxbury said it isn’t that easy.

“I think we could throw money at this problem at this point in our history and it wouldn’t necessarily solve the issue,” Duxbury said. “… We have to look at two things here. One is, you can’t arrest your way out of this and is also part of being compassionate toward people who have gotten into an addiction situation and need help.”

Duxbury, who was an Alaska State Trooper for 30 years before his recent appointment to deputy commissioner, said the estimated cost to the public from crime related to the opioid crisis is about $61 million per year.

Von Imhof read off statistics at the start of the meeting saying state agencies spent $70 million in 2018 on direct spending for opioid treatment. Of that, DHSS spent $60 million.

Meth enforcement still costly

Though the opioid epidemic is more of a talking point among legislators and state officials, methamphetamine continues to dwarf opioids in terms of how many incidents law enforcement officers respond to. In 2018, for example, Troopers responded to 1,904 incidents related to meth use compared to 746 incidents related to opioid usage.

The cost of responding to these 2018 incidents was nearly $840,000 for opioid response and more than $2.1 million for responding to meth incidents for DPS. Since 2010, DPS has spent more than $15 million on meth-related incidents.




• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or amccarthy@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.


More in News

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Members of the Alaska House of Representatives on Saturday rejected the budget bill passed by the Senate earlier in the week. The bill will now go to a bicameral committee for negotiations, but the end of the legislative session is Wednesday.
House votes down Senate’s budget as end of session nears

State budget now goes to negotiating committee

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Candidate for Alaska’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives Tara Sweeney, a Republican, was in Juneau on Monday and sat down with the Empire for an interview. Sweeney said the three main pillars of her campaign are the economy, jobs and healthy communities.
Sweeney cites experience in run for Congress

GOP candidate touts her history of government-related work

One tree stands in front of the Kenai Post Office on Thursday, May 12, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai taking down hazard beetle trees

The city hopes to leverage grant funds for most of the work

Former Alaska governor and current congressional hopeful Sarah Palin speaks with attendees at a meet-and-greet event outside of Ginger’s Restaurant on Saturday, May 14, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Palin brings congressional bid to Soldotna

The former governor took time Saturday to sign autographs and take pictures with attendees

In this October 2019 photo, Zac Watt, beertender for Forbidden Peak Brewery, pours a beer during the grand opening for the Auke Bay business in October 2019. On Sunday, the Alaska House of Representatives OK’d a major update to the state’s alcohol laws. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Graphic by Ashlyn O'Hara
Borough, school district finalizing $65M bond package

Efforts to fund maintenance and repairs at school district facilities have been years in the making

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Members of the House Majority Coalition spent most of Friday, May 13, 2022, in caucus meetings at the Alaska State Capitol, discussing how to proceed with a large budget bill some have called irresponsible. With a thin majority in the House of Representatives, there’s a possibility the budget could pass.
State budget work stretches into weekend

Sessions have been delayed and canceled since Wednesday

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Alaskans for Better Government members La quen náay Liz Medicine Crow, Richard Chalyee Éesh Peterson and ‘Wáahlaal Gidáak Barbara Blake embrace on the floor of the Alaska State Senate following the passage of House Bill 123, a bill to formally recognize the state’s 229 federally recognized tribes.
Tribal recognition bill clears Senate, nears finish line

Senators say recognition of tribes was overdue

The Alaska Division of Forestry’s White Mountain crew responds to a fire burning near Milepost 46.5 of the Sterling Highway on Tuesday, May 10, 2022, near Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Cooper Landing Emergency Services)
Officials encourage residents to firewise homes

The central peninsula has already had its first reported fires of the season

Most Read