Note: This opinion piece was first published in the Anchorage Daily News.
By Tiffany Hall
For a decade, Anchorage leaders, public health experts, advocates and philanthropists have worked to increase access to substance use disorder and acute behavioral health treatment. Now, that hard work is paying off in the form of a new, centrally located health care facility that will treat people seeking to recover from substance misuse and addiction and better their lives.
Alaska has always had too few treatment beds to help people recover from substance use disorder. We have one of the highest binge-drinking rates in the country, and Alaska residents die from alcohol at a rate more than twice as high as the national average. Recent needs assessments show the state has a gap in its care continuum, something only exacerbated by recent state budget cuts.
During the past year, the passage of an alcohol tax in Anchorage and the sale of Municipal Light and Power provided a path to address some of the need in our community. Those resources will help to open a facility in Midtown Anchorage that will provide an array of treatment and services to people who need them. With a third of households in Alaska reporting experiencing harms from alcohol, this new treatment facility will increase our access to care, will be a boon to public health and will make our community safer.
Recently, the Municipality of Anchorage purchased the building that will house this facility and is in the process of competitively selecting an experienced behavioral health care provider to operate it. This location will bring close access to people throughout Southcentral Alaska.
National research shows such facilities do not increase crime rates in the surrounding area. That has proven true in Anchorage as well, where similar treatment facilities have operated with such minimal community impact that many people don’t even realize they live and work near one.
To ensure this new center meets community needs without harming neighboring residents or businesses, the operator will agree to Good Neighbor guidelines which detail how the facility will be run safely, how it will respond to any concerns, and how it will work with businesses and residents to improve the neighborhood.
Alcohol-attributed deaths are on the rise in Alaska and nationwide, and data shows alcohol consumption has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we come out of winter and see an end to the pandemic in sight, Recover Alaska thanks the Municipality of Anchorage for being proactive in addressing this lack of health care that has long hurt our community.