Update: Officials will discuss substance abuse at public forum

Public can ask questions anonymously of physicians, police chief, court official

A bottle of oxycodone tablets. Photo courtesy of Cindy Shebley/Flickr

Updated 3:38 p.m., July 13.

Hospital, police and court officials have signed up to participate in a panel discussion on substance abuse. The public will be able to anonymously submit questions for panelists online at cdv.tiny.us/forum or via a drop box at the event.

The event, which was originally scheduled for the evening of Tuesday, July 20, was postponed due to an ongoing local outbreak of the novel coronavirus. The event is now tentatively expected to occur in August, organizers said.

Panelists will include Ilanka Community Health Center physician Dr. Brian Iutzi, Sound Alternatives behavioral health program manager Barb Jewell, Native Village of Eyak Tribal Court administrator Sarah Kathrein, ICHC behavioral health coordinator Susie Powell, Cordova Community Medical Center Medical Director Dr. Hannah Sanders and Police Chief Nate Taylor. Discussion will be moderated by City Manager Helen Howarth. Most of the forum will be conducted in a Q&A format, with panelists responding to questions from the public.

“I think the forum will offer an opportunity for the community to have a conversation about the topic and to gain a better understanding of the challenges we face as a community around alcohol and drug abuse, the resources we do have to address this issue and the gaps that we may need to fill to better support individuals and families struggling with addiction,” Jewell wrote in an email.

Taylor said he hoped the forum would help prompt a public discussion about what part the police department plays in the deterrence and prevention of substance abuse. 

The forum is planned to gather input for a forthcoming series of public presentations led by specialists. Additionally, the forum will allow authorities to receive guidance from the public and to identify existing gaps in services, Kathrein said.

“We can see that the community’s frustrated,” Kathrein said. “We can see that they’re looking for more to be done… So we want it to be less of us talking at people, and more of us talking with people.”

The forum was announced after street drugs containing fentanyl were reported in Cordova in June. Substance abuse and mental health-related crimes accounted for 63.6% of all cases handled by the Alaska Court System at Cordova from January 2019-February 2021, according to Alaska Court System data compiled by Magistrate Judge Kay Adams and by the NVE Tribal Court. The forum will hopefully mark the beginning of a more proactive approach to the issue, forum organizers said. De-stigmatizing the topic of substance abuse will also encourage people with addiction to seek treatment, Kathrein said.

“If they watch the shaming on social media, or hear it in conversations within the town, they’re less likely to get help,” Kathrein said.

Local recovery resources include ICHC’s medication-assisted treatment program, which uses both medication and therapy to treat individuals with opioid use disorder and alcohol use disorder. ICHC also operates Ilanka Recovery Circle, a publicly accessible substance use support group that meets 7-8:30 p.m. Tuesdays.

Howarth said that, in light of increasing coronavirus infection number, postponing the event was not a difficult decision.

“There’s no rush to do this event, and we’d rather people feel comfortable coming,” Howarth said. “Next week just feels premature to try to host an event with COVID in our midst.”

The forum was organized by the city’s task force on substance abuse issues, which includes representatives from CCMC, ICHC, the police department and other community groups. It’s not recommended that children under 16 attend the event, organizers said.