Sitka Counseling prevention director Loyd Platson displays a free lock box for homeowners concerned about seeing their prescription meds falling into the wrong hands. The lock boxes, along with free disposal bags, pharmacy drop boxes, and a special incinerator are all part of a program designed to “remove social access” to opioids and other dangerous drugs. (KCAW photo/Robert Woolsey)

Sitka Counseling is tucked away in the woods behind Sitka National Historical Park, but it is a very visible player in the mental health of the community

Top staff outlined the organization’s service plan for the Chamber of Commerce recently, and it extends far beyond substance abuse treatment and mental health counseling.

To illustrate the scope of Sitka Counseling’s services, clinical director Marita Bailey asked the chamber audience to consider a hypothetical question: How many would raise their hands if they had been affected by substance use or mental health problems, either personally or by a friend or family member?

She guessed about half might be willing to raise their hands. Then, Bailey reframed the question.

If I were to change that question to: How many of you have been affected by divorce or separation? Or your child is not responding to your parenting techniques. Or your child has ADHD and they’re struggling in school to really learn. Maybe you’re having problems with your partner, and you need someone to talk to about it. Or postpartum depression. Or anxiety. I would venture to say that if we changed the question, everyone in the room would raise their hand. Because at some point or another we all experience some challenges. So that idea of stigma is very real.

Sitka Counseling has an annual budget of $2.8 million, and a full-time staff of 37. Its funding is a mixture of grants and Medicaid. The organization serves 350 unique clients every year, anywhere between 40 and 60 of whom travel from out of town.

Prevention director, Loyd Platson told the chamber that he worked to build strategic partnerships within Sitka, to stem the opioid crisis. He showed the audience free lock-boxes they could install in their homes to keep prescription medications safe; he had small drug disposal bags that neutralized unused medications with activated charcoal; and he showed pictures of the drop boxes installed at Sitka’s pharmacies, where police could collect unused drugs and dispose of them in a new incinerator designed especially for this purpose.

Much of Platson’s program is funded by two major grants: A Drug-Free Communities grant ($125,000 a year for 10 years) and a Strategic Prevention grant ($150,000 a year for 4 years).
Although both grants will run dry in a few years, Platson says prevention will continue.

Part of the reason that we invest in the grant through things like this, the incinerator, or the drop boxes — those are things that will continue on afterwards. The Sitka Police Department has made a commitment that they will continue to collect medications, incinerate medications. We can do that without any extra funding. How do we think about sustaining the efforts that we have through funding? Maybe it’s through city support, or individual organizations. I know that I wouldn’t be here if Sitka Counseling hadn’t stuck its neck out a little bit and provided my salary for the three years now, before we even got the grant. So it’s organizations coming together, it’s individuals making a commitment to say “We want our community to be healthy and rather than just talking about it we’re willing to pull our pocketbook and support it anyway we can.” Sometimes that’s just with people, sometimes financially.

Platson told the chamber that all of these prevention products and services were free to the public, thanks to the grant funding. “The object,” he said, “is to remove social access to drugs.”