Photo by Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion  Kristie Sellers, director of behavioral health at Central Peninsula Hospital, addresses a crowd of around 170 community members during a town hall meeting to go over issues with area heroin abuse Thursday, May 19, 2016 at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska.

Photo by Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion Kristie Sellers, director of behavioral health at Central Peninsula Hospital, addresses a crowd of around 170 community members during a town hall meeting to go over issues with area heroin abuse Thursday, May 19, 2016 at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska.

Town hall examines heroin issue

Everyone crammed into a room at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska on Thursday agreed that heroin abuse is a real, growing problem on the Kenai Peninsula. What they still have to figure out is how to beat it.

Held by the Change 4 the Kenai Coalition, the town hall called Heroin Epidemic on the Kenai drew about 170 concerned community members to the center, leaving several standing against the walls throughout the two-hour meeting. Led by Coalition Coordinator Shari Conner, it served as an introduction to the topic and a probing meeting to uncover what residents know and feel about the issue with heroin in the area.

Attendees, who ranged from concerned residents and coalition volunteers to representatives of local government and law, first participated in a survey, the results of which were displayed for all to see. Overwhelmingly, those at the town hall favored treatment over incarceration for heroin users, with 97 percent answering that they preferred the former, and only 3 percent saying they preferred the latter. When polled to see how many people at the meeting knew someone who uses heroin, 76 percent answered that they do.

“I think when we have those numbers of people that … know people that are using in one room, that’s when you see that there’s obviously a problem in our community,” Conner said.

The coalition of about 64 members and agencies began doing research about a year and a half ago, Conner said.

By hosting two town hall meetings, the group hopes to both rally concerned residents who can commit to helping and brainstorm solutions to the abuse problem that can be implemented at the community level.

“While we’re (not likely) to do anything about the supply, of keeping heroin out of our community and out of our state and out of our nation, we are able to do something about the demand,” Conner said. “If we have less demand for heroin that means we have less users.”

The coalition presented several panelists Thursday from the criminal justice, family services and health care sectors who each spoke to how heroin abuse is addressed in their field. Ruben Foster, probation supervisor for the Kenai Probation Office, presented a timeline of how heroin use has risen while abuse of other drugs has diminished over the years.

Even though the spike in heroin abuse is alarming, Foster cautioned that it is often seen accompanied by multiple other drugs, making the danger to users even greater.

“The thing about heroin use is a lot of time what we find — and I’ve been looking at this for 17 years — is it’s not just heroin,” he said. “It’s almost always heroin and meth, and weed, or, you know, meth is always for some reason in there.”

Foster and other panelists emphasized that the corrections sector often sees drug users at their worst, and that while the issue doesn’t originate in corrections, it is often up to people in that field to deal with the fall out and try to help people get back on the straight and narrow.

“I’ve watched people die. I’ve watched moms not be moms, I’ve watched dads not be dads,” Foster said. “I’ve watched kids go to OCS because the drug just doesn’t care. … I’m encouraged because I see a lot of people … that we’ve had the opportunity to come across their path at one point or another, but I also see successes in here, and we don’t often get to see that.”

Kathy Calloway of the Office of Childrens Services detailed how heroin abuse affects the family structure and weighs on both children who are taken out of homes and the parents who are no longer fit to cope with raising them.

Kristie Sellers, director of behavioral health at Central Peninsula Hospital, emphasized the importance of those who are in recovery from drug abuse living their lives openly and setting a good example for those who would like to follow in their footsteps.

Near the end of the meeting, attendees were encouraged to brainstorm solutions until they come back together to hash them out. The Change 4 the Kenai coalition also meets at 10 a.m. the third Friday of each month.

“I hope that we have something that we can do as a community that can help us address the problem and understand that corrections can’t fix the problem,” Foster said. “It’s always been a community problem. It’s never been a corrections problem, but what we can do is work with the community to try to help the problem.”

The next coalition town hall will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday at the center. Find more information at change4kenai.org.

 

Reach Megan Pacer at megan.pacer@peninsulaclarion.com.

Photo by Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion About 170 community members from the central Kenai Peninsula gather to hear a presentation on issues with heroin use in the area Thursday, May 19, 2016 at a town hall at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska.

Photo by Megan Pacer/Peninsula Clarion About 170 community members from the central Kenai Peninsula gather to hear a presentation on issues with heroin use in the area Thursday, May 19, 2016 at a town hall at the Challenger Learning Center of Alaska in Kenai, Alaska.

More in News

Vehicles are unleaded at the Seward Harbor after being moved from Lowell Point on Sunday, May 22, 2022 in Seward, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Kenai Peninsula Borough Office of Emergency Management)
Lowell Point barge services move 110-plus cars to Seward

The services were covered by the Kenai Peninsula Borough and ended Monday

Anglers fish on the Kenai River on Tuesday, June 29, 2021 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O'Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Watershed Forum receives matching grant from Conoco

The Kenai Watershed Forum was given a grant from ConocoPhillips to fund… Continue reading

A beach on the eastern side of Cook Inlet is photographed at Clam Gulch, Alaska, in June 2019. The Alaska Board of Fisheries is implementing new shellfish regulations in Cook Inlet. (Peninsula Clarion file)
Fish and Game closes East Cook Inlet razor clam fisheries

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has closed the Cook Inlet… Continue reading

Anastasia Scollon (left) and Willow King (right) stand in The Goods + Sustainable Grocery and Where it’s At mindful food and drink on Monday, May 16, 2022 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Sustainable shopping finds new home in Soldotna

The Collective used to operate out of Cook Inletkeeper’s Community Action Studio

The Alaska State Capitol is seen on Wednesday, April 6, 2022. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)
Legislature modernizes 40-year-old definition of consent in sexual assault cases

‘Alaska took a gargantuan step forward in updating our laws,’ says deputy attorney general

Project stakeholders cut a ribbon at the Nikiski Shelter of Hope on Friday, May 20, 2022, in Nikiski, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Stakeholders celebrate opening of Nikiski shelter

The shelter officially opened last December

Peter Segall / Juneau Empire
Gov. Mike Dunleavy speaks with reporters Thursday about the state’s budget at the Alaska State Capitol. Dunleavy said lawmakers had sent a complete budget, and that there was no need for a special session.
Dunleavy: No need for special session

Governor calls budget “complete”

A magnet promoting the Alaska Reads Act released sits atop a stack of Alaskan-authored and Alaska-centric books. Lawmakers passed the Alaska Reads Act on the last day of the legislative session, but several members of the House of Representatives were upset with the bill, and the way it was passed. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire)
In last-minute move, Legislature passes early reading overhaul

Rural lawmakers push back on Alaska Reads Act

Graduates wait to receive diplomas during Connections Homeschool’s commencement ceremony on Thursday, May 19, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Connections honors more than 100 graduates

The home-school program held a ceremony Thursday in Soldotna

Most Read