Amazing things can happen when you put the right mix of people in a room for two days, turn off cell phones and concentrate on the big picture. That was the concept that Rasmuson Foundation followed last week in convening 20 of the state’s leading experts on substance abuse and addiction issues in Alaska.

From Merrill Field on Thursday morning, a group of 20 thought leaders climbed aboard small planes for the short trip to Talkeetna, where the clean air and beautiful mountain views provided a perfect backdrop for a two-day retreat. The discussion was facilitated by Victor Capoccia who directs the Open Society Institute’s “Closing the Treatment Gap” initiative and is also a senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin.

The discussion included examples of programs and initiatives that are currently working well such as Southcentral Foundation’s Family Wellness Warriors Initiative , which offers intensive programs to address emotional and physical effects of domestic violence, substance abuse and child neglect. Watch a video on the program here. Also recognized CIRI Inc. and Southcentral Foundation’s work implementing the SBIRT (Screening, Brief Intervention, Referral to Treatment) Program. SBIRT provides treatment services for adults in a primary health care setting and in other general community programs in Anchorage.

The group discussed elements of the system that could be improved -such as the number of homeless people with addiction issues in Anchorage, mixed messages about alcohol that contribute to a binge-drinking culture that endangers teens and young adults, and treatment facilities that can be difficult for people in crisis to negotiate. The group also touched on a number of constraints in treatment and legal systems that may contribute to circumstances where it’s very difficult to recover.

The group didn’t “solve” substance abuse issues in Alaska last week. But we believe the convening to be an important step in encouraging open, honest communication among leaders in Alaska that will ultimately move us forward in addressing this large, complex issue.

Substance abuse and addiction are big issue areas. Please share your thoughts with us!