Addictions: Sen. Sullivan champions the battle



U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan was a champion for women when he was Alaska’s Attorney General, a solid supporter of the Choose Respect campaign against domestic violence.

He was a champion for resource development as Alaska’s commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources.

Now, as a U.S. senator, he’s joined the battle against opioid addiction. And what a battle it is. Alaska paces national trends in that heroin overdose deaths have continued to increase steadily every year since 2010 and are now ten-fold from 2010.

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As Sullivan tells it, last fall a group of Alaskans gathered in his office and told him their personal stories of addiction. As they spoke of the pain and suffering that opioids had caused in their lives and in their families, “there was not a dry eye in the room.”

Sullivan decided to take what action he could to help them and the thousands of other Alaskans who are enslaved by addiction. Next week, he will convene his first summit since taking office, and the focus is on Wellness — helping Alaskans conquer opioid and heroin addiction.


The conference is open to all — caretakers, medical professionals, family members, friends, neighbors, or those in recovery.

Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy
Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy

Sullivan is bringing in U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Mary Wakefield as the keynote speaker. 

The U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy is also attending, as part of his tour of the nation to meet with doctors and talk about the role that opioid prescriptions are playing in the epidemic of addiction.

Dr. Jennifer Lee, Veterans Health Administration Deputy Undersecretary for Health Policy and Services, and Dr. Karen Drexler, VHA Acting National Mental Health Program Director for Addictive Disorders will bring the focus to veterans and their families.

“I am committed to focusing our time together at the summit to produce tangible solutions that the attending federal officials and I can take back to DC,” Sullivan said. 

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 In 2012, Alaska’s prescription opioid pain reliever overdose death rate was more than double the rate in the United States, while heroin deaths were more than 50 percent higher than the national rate.
Do conferences help? Not exactly. But government does have a role to play in public health, and this is one of the growing public health crises of our state, driving problems of violence, homelessness, and crime.
Tackle it through public health efforts, or Alaska will have to absorb the repurcussions through the criminal justice system. The Wellness Summit is the start we need with the leadership this problem deserves.