Sara Chambers, Deputy Director of the Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing at the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, left, and Dr. Jay C. Butler, Chief Medical Officer for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, speak about an opioids bill in front of the Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sara Chambers, Deputy Director of the Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing at the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, left, and Dr. Jay C. Butler, Chief Medical Officer for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, speak about an opioids bill in front of the Senate Finance Committee at the Capitol on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Alaska Senate prepares final vote on governor’s bid to fight drug overdoses

The Alaska Senate is preparing to take a final vote on a plan from Gov. Bill Walker to fight a wave of opioid addiction in Alaska.

On Thursday, the Senate is expected to take up House Bill 159, which previously passed the House in a 25-8 vote.

The Senate is expected to approve a slightly modified version of HB 159, and the House would be required to confirm those changes. All of the Senate’s changes are minor, however, and the House’s concurrence is expected.

HB 159 is the only non-budgetary item on the agenda Walker set for the Legislature. That status indicates its importance to the governor and the Legislature.

Across the United States, rates of opioid abuse are on the rise. More Americans — and Alaskans — are abusing prescription painkillers and, when those are unavailable, heroin. The abuse of those narcotics can be deadly. According to the Alaska Section of Epidemiology, there were 128 drug overdose deaths in Alaska in 2016. Of those, 95 came from opioids.

Before 2010, most of Alaska’s opioid overdoses came from prescription drugs, typically OxyContin, which is manufactured by Purdue Pharma.

In 2010, Purdue reformulated OxyContin to make abuse more difficult. OxyContin overdoses dropped, but abusers switched to heroin, and the number of overdoses due to prescription painkillers has once again begun to rise, according to state figures.

“This bill is an important first step in providing patients and professionals with tools to treat patients and manage this devastating epidemic,” Walker said when he proposed the bill to the Legislature.

If signed into law, HB 159 will restrict the amount of opioid painkillers that can be prescribed at a given time. Those limits will apply to veterinarians, eye doctors and dentists as well as general-practice physicians, and pharmacists will be required to keep closer track of their opioid stockpiles.

HB 159 follows the passage of Senate Bill 91 earlier this year. That measure allows the state to continue distributing, on a broad basis, the anti-overdose medication Naloxone.

Naloxone is sometimes called a “fire extinguisher” of overdoses; if administered to an overdosing individual, it can stop the overdose promptly and possibly save the victim’s life.

Though drug overdoses are garnering increased attention from the Legislature this year, state figures show drugs continue to kill fewer Alaskans annually than do firearms, alcohol or diseases linked to poor diet and lack of exercise.


Contact reporter James Brooks at james.k.brooks@juneauempire.com or call 419-7732.


Sen. Donald Olson, D-Golovin, right, Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, center, and Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, of the Senate Finance Committee listen to Dr. Jay C. Butler, Chief Medical Officer for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, and Sara Chambers, Deputy Director of the Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing at the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, speak about an opioids bill at the Capitol on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sen. Donald Olson, D-Golovin, right, Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, center, and Sen. Lyman Hoffman, D-Bethel, of the Senate Finance Committee listen to Dr. Jay C. Butler, Chief Medical Officer for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, and Sara Chambers, Deputy Director of the Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing at the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, speak about an opioids bill at the Capitol on Tuesday, May 30, 2017. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

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