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By BECKY BOHRER
JUNEAU — Gov. Bill Walker signed an administrative order Thursday directing state agencies to pursue grant funding to help combat opioid abuse in Alaska.
The order directs the state health department to establish an “incident command structure,” similar to what is used for natural disasters, to develop plans for addressing the abuse of opioids, such as heroin and prescription painkillers.
It calls for the Department of Public Safety to look for ways to restrict entry of illegal drugs. It also directs the corrections department to develop a program for inmates who are at the point of their release and want help with their addictions.
The order came after Walker this week declared opioid abuse a public health disaster that communities could not combat on their own.
While communities have created opioid working groups to focus on the issue, Walker said they lack money and in some cases authority to distribute to the general public naloxone, which can be used to prevent overdose by opioids.
As part of the declaration, Walker proposed spending about $4.1 million in federal grants over five years that Walker spokeswoman Grace Jang said is intended for a naloxone program.
Walker’s office said he also plans to introduce legislation aimed at providing a longer-term solution.
Opioid addiction is a problem that states around the U.S. are grappling with. Declarations similar to Walker’s already have been issued in states such as Virginia, New Jersey and Massachusetts.
Walker said he was pleased by the response he has received from lawmakers so far.
“Everybody in the state of Alaska needs to come together on this issue, and they are,” he said during a news conference that was attended by advocates of increased attention to the issue. Walker was surrounded by staff and some Cabinet members and his wife, Donna Walker.
Alaska currently faces a multibillion-dollar budget deficit amid chronically low oil prices.
“That doesn’t mean we can’t go out and do all we can with what we have today,” Walker said, adding later: “We’re mindful of our fiscal situation but that doesn’t slow us down.”