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Dillingham grapples with recent opioid overdoses, shares resources for emergencies and prevention

A Narcan nasal device used to administer naloxone. (Mary Altaffer/AP)
Mary Altaffer
A Narcan nasal device used to administer naloxone.

The Dillingham community is in mourning after three overdose emergencies last week, which resulted in two hospitalizations and one death. Each incident involved opioids. Emergency personnel responding to the calls administered the overdose reversal drug Narcan, saving at least one person's life.

Gregg Marxmiller is the outreach and education coordinator at SAFE, Bristol Bay’s domestic abuse and sexual assault shelter and resource center. He said they’re focused on overdose prevention strategies.

“We need to figure out ways of making our community better or doing better in our community so that people don't want to do drugs, and in dealing with the trauma – the grief that people have suffered, and are continuing to suffer,” he said.

SAFE offers a 24-hour help line, as well as resources to connect those with substance use disorder to care. Marxmiller said SAFE can also assist people in navigating administrative systems to receive the help they need. They are also distributing a survey to learn more about the community’s needs.

Opioids are drugs that act on protein receptors in the body and reduce the respiratory drive. Dillingham EMT Malcolm Wright said that means if a person ingests too much, the body forgets to breathe. Narcan helps the body to remember.

“If enough Narcan is given to counteract the amount of opioid in the person’s system, the person will regain respiratory drive, and therefore get past danger,” he said.

Overdose deaths in Alaska – and across the US – have skyrocketed in the past few years. The Center for Disease Control reported that between 2020 and 2021 Alaska had the greatest increase in overdose deaths in the country. Officials say synthetic opioids like fentanyl are the most common drugs involved in these deaths. Presently, a statewide effort aims to distribute overdose reversal kits and increase awareness, including in the Bristol Bay region.

Wright said anyone in the community can keep a Narcan kit handy, just in case.

“It’s a good thing to have, like a fire extinguisher. It’s just something that people can keep in their personal first aid kit,” he said.

Narcan kits are available for free around Dillingham. People can pick them up at the fire department, the harbor office, the pharmacy and the hospital through the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation Opioid Overdose Prevention Program. Narcan will also soon be available at SAFE.

Wright said that if you suspect someone is overdosing, call 911 immediately. Make sure you and those around you are safe before checking to see if the person is breathing. If they are not, start CPR and administer Narcan. If you don’t have a CPR mask and suspect a person has smoked or ingested a substance orally, stick to hands-only CPR.

Several local entities have opportunities for people to talk about wellness and process traumatic experiences. The Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation currently hosts weekly talking circles focused on general wellness, healing and recovery for community members. Mondays meetings are held on Zoom at 10 a.m. Tuesdays’ Wellbriety meetings are usually held at 6 p.m. in the Curyung Tribal council building but are held virtually the first Tuesday of each month.

The health corporation is holding a town meeting this afternoon on preventing overdoses where it will distribute Narcan kits and provide training on how to use them. The meeting will be held in the Dillingham High School gym at 5 p.m.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use disorder you can access help at Dillingham’s SAFE shelter at (907) 842-2320. SAFE’s listening line is (800) 478-2316. 

You can also reach access care from the Bristol Bay Area Health Corporation’s substance use disorder program here. The corporation includes resources to access help in communities around the region. 

Overdose kits are available at Kanakanak Hospital at (907) 842-5201 and at the Dillingham Fire Department at (907) 842-2288. 

Get in touch with the author at or 907-842-2200.

Christina McDermott began reporting for KDLG, Dillingham’s NPR member station, in March 2023. Previously, she worked with KCBX News in San Luis Obispo, California, where she focused on local news and cultural stories. She’s passionate about producing evocative, sound-rich work that informs and connects the public.