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BETHEL, Alaska (AP) — About 45 people from Bethel, surrounding villages and other places in Alaska have sought opioid addiction treatment at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Ayagnirvik Healing Center since it opened a year ago.

The healing center estimated in 2016 that about 250 people in Bethel “actively” use heroin and about 500 people use it “recreationally.” No estimates exist for the surrounding Yukon-Kuskokwim villages. Bethel has a population of about 6,000 people.

Alaska has a bed shortage for residential addiction treatment but the program has 16 beds and has been able to offer one to everyone who has needed one, KYUK-AM reported Tuesday.

More people are coming to get help because addiction has begun to lose its stigma, said Andre Taylor, the center’s behavioral health clinician.

“Now it’s a lot more accepted,” Taylor said. “You have people who are opting to bring family members to come to sessions or to be involved. That’s not something we saw early on in the program.”

Patients going through the program spend six weeks at the center with a treatment plan that combines medical detoxification and behavioral health therapy. That’s followed by outpatient care that can last more than two years.

“The best outcome for the client is the combination of the intensive treatment, behavioral health-wise, and then also the medication to help them stay clean,” said Dr. Ellen Hodges, the center’s chief of staff. “So providing one without the other isn’t an option.”

The medication that the program uses most frequently is suboxone. It can address opioid withdrawal, but the treatment doesn’t only focus on that single issue.

“Most people who come into the program have a variety of addictions,” Taylor said, “so suboxone helps with the withdraw from the opioids. However, the treatment that we give can be for a variety of different conditions as far as alcohol and drug addictions.”

Patients also learn life skills like finding housing and a job.


Information from: KYUK-AM,