Overdose Deaths from Opioids Continue to Rise in Alaska

    ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The number of deadly opioid overdoses in Alaska has increased again with the powerful painkiller fentanyl linked to a larger portion of the deaths last year, according to a state report.

    The preliminary numbers from the state Department of Health and Social Services show that 108 Alaska residents died from opioid overdoses in 2017, a number that has been steadily rising over the past seven years, KTUU-TV reported Thursday.

    Between 2010 and 2017, 623 opioid overdose deaths were reported in the state, increasing by 77 percent, according to the report.

    The number of Fentanyl-related deaths increased dramatically last year, linked to 5 in 2016 and 28 in 2017.

    "It's important to summarize the trends and challenges of this epidemic so we can respond as effectively as possible," said Jay Butler, chief medical officer and director of the state Division of Public Health. "While deaths caused by prescription opioids and heroin declined in 2017, we have seen more deaths caused by fentanyl, a more deadly synthetic opioid."

    The state's opioid epidemic disproportionately affects certain demographics, including men, white and Alaska Native people, and people between the ages of 25 and 44. White people made up 27 percent of those affected, and Alaska Natives made up 41 percent, according to the report.

    The state also experienced a significant economic impact as hospital visits related to opioid overdoses cost more than $23 million between 2016 and 2017.

    While the report outlined several bleak numbers, there were some positive notes. Prescription opioid use among Medicare patients has declined, suggesting doctors may be using more caution when prescribing. And Naloxone, a medication that can reverse the effects of an opioid overdose, has been made more available across the states, according to the report.

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