The HOPE Coalition consists of Sitka medical and behavioral centers, schools, and public safety organizations. The group recently won a state grant for $150,000 for the next four years to develop drug prevention programs in Sitka. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

Sitkans on the front lines of substance abuse treatment received good news earlier this month. The state’s Division of Health and Social Services awarded Sitka Counseling and Prevention Services and the HOPE Coalition a grant of $150,000 per year, for up to four years, to address prescription opioid and heroin abuse in Sitka.

Loyd Platson, who works with Sitka Counseling, says the funding – called the Strategic Prevention Framework-Partnerships for Success (SPF-PFS) grant – will be used to gather much-needed qualitative data. He estimates that two dozen Sitkans have been referred for inpatient and outpatient treatment facilities in the past year.

“One of the things that this grant will do is help us set up a system for gathering the data that we need, to establish a need. What are some of the trends? What’s the scope and the depth of the issue here in Sitka? There’s no hard data right now,” Platson said.

The grant will be shared with members of the HOPE Coalition next year to develop programs. The HOPE Coalition, which stands for “Healthy Organizations, People, and Environments,” formed last year and includes Youth Advocates, Sitka Community Hospital, SEARHC, the Sitka school district, Sitka police department, and others.

Platson hopes this grant will inspire more organizations to join the coalition and, using the data, develop “evidence based strategies” for addressing drug abuse in Sitka. “The federal government has a database of programs that have been proven to make an impact on the different substances and things such as that. And so that will be one of the requirements,” Platson said. “What are evidence-based programs that we could implement in our community?”

Platson called abuse of pain-killing drugs an “epidemic,” adding that that 80% of the word’s opioid supply is consumed by Americans, despite making up only 5% of the world’s population. He’s passionate about substance abuse prevention and treatment, motivated by his own experiences as a teenager.

“I abused heavily, in terms of alcohol. And I almost died from that. And I think that was a triggering point where I almost died from alcohol poisoning,” Platson said. “And I finally had to sit down and look at my life and say, ‘What is it that I want to be about? And what do I want to do with my life?’ ”

At the University of Wisconsin, Platson got involved with the National Wellness Institute. “Since that time, probably my second year in college, I got involved with peer counseling and it just made sense to me. So whatever we can do to enhance our personal lives and the community life, that’s what decided I wanted to be about in my life.”

On behalf of the HOPE Coalition, Platson also applied for a federal Drug-Free Communities grant. Those winners will be announced in September.