JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — The Alaska National Guard’s Counterdrug Support Program, a joint unit of Air and Army National Guardsmen, supports and partners with the state’s Office of Substance Misuse and Addiction Prevention in addressing a rising trend of opioid overdoses in the state of Alaska.
With the initiative Project HOPE, the abbreviated form of Harm reduction, Overdose Prevention and Education, the state and AKNG are enacting the governor’s current five-year plan in response to the increased number of drug overdoses as well as increased incidences of fentanyl-contaminated opioids.
Sgt. Michael Lopez, an officer in the Wasilla Police Department and captain in the Alaska Army National Guard, is part of that response. In the last six months, Lopez has saved the lives of three overdose victims by administering the life-saving medication naloxone and getting them to emergency medical care.
“Being part of Project HOPE has given the Wasilla Police Department dependable access to heroin and opioid rescue kits, or Narcan,” said Lopez. “It gives us more resources to resuscitate a person experiencing an overdose and also more insight into how the region is being affected and how we can more effectively respond.”
Sgt. 1st Class Oliver Meza, noncommissioned officer in charge of the Drug Demand Reduction section of the CSP, said the WPD is a great example of how a law enforcement agency can work with AKNG’s CSP and the initiative.
“What Sgt. Lopez and his officers are doing is setting an example to emulate,” he said. “They’re not just talking about it. They’re living it and working it every day.”
Naloxone, colloquially referred to by the prescription name Narcan, is an opioid antagonist that blocks and reverses the effects of other opioids by attaching to the cell’s opioid receptors. Once administered, naloxone is effective for 30 to 90 minutes, giving the victim valuable time to seek further medical care.
“The reality is that seeking treatment is not an easy road to navigate,” said Tech Sgt. Elijah Gutierrez, a civil operator in the Drug Demand Reduction Outreach section of CSP. “Project HOPE works to keep people alive long enough to access resources, and we are a force multiplier for their distribution efforts of naloxone.”
Providing the WPD with the resources to respond to drug overdoses is one of several objectives for Project HOPE. The plan includes the dissemination of naloxone rescue kits throughout the state and training on how to administer the medication through a nasal spray.
“Project HOPE is the widespread, and state-wide distribution of naloxone,” said Theresa Welton, manager of OSMAP. “We partner with 45 different distribution points throughout Alaska to make sure that they have naloxone they can distribute to their own communities.”
Alaska Governor Mike Dunleavy wants Alaskans to be aware of the dangers of fentanyl-laced opioids and looks to Project HOPE to inform communities and provide resources and training on life-saving methods to help those in need.
“Fentanyl is incredibly deadly at an incredibly small dose,” Dunleavy said. “Parents, kids and all Alaskans must understand that this poison is in our state in different forms of counterfeit pills. We will continue to do everything we can to protect Alaskans including issuing a community threat bulletin to parents and schools, disseminating the materials to build 11,000 life-saving naloxone kits, stepping up our law enforcement efforts, and prosecuting to the full extent of the law, those who are drug trafficking in the illegal use of this deadly poison.”