Alaskans who lost relatives to fentanyl grieve together during Anchorage event

Connection Overcomes Addiction

Athena Fulton put up a white cross on Anchorage’s Delaney Park Strip, fighting back tears. After her son Braeden died from fentanyl overdose over a year ago, Fulton came to the Connection Overcomes Addiction event on Sunday to honor his memory and share her grief with others who lost their loved ones to drug misuse.

“I am here to continue the grieving process, take steps to try and make things make more sense,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to me why my son is gone.”

Connection Overcomes Addiction

Dozens of people – mostly parents – showed up in a steady stream throughout the weekend to the three-day event, according to organizer Karen Malcolm-Smith. Some signed white crosses and added them to the memorial, and others learned about available counseling and treatment services. Organizers also offered free Narcan kits that can quickly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

[’People will listen to a grieving mother’: An Anchorage mom who lost her son to fentanyl wants to tell her story]

Fentanyl — the synthetic opioid that can be 100 times stronger than morphine —has been shaking the country and the state with overdose deaths. Nationwide, deaths linked with fentanyl surged by 55% between 2020 and 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Drug Enforcement Administration. In Alaska, overdoses involving fentanyl accounted for about 75% of all fatal opioid overdoses last year, according to Michael Troster, Alaska’s High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas unit.

[Alaska’s fatal overdoses surged last year, a spike driven by fentanyl]

The danger also lies in fentanyl-laced drugs that range from cocaine and heroin to Adderall, Xanax and even diet supplements and pain medication that people order off the internet, Troster said. To address the issue, Troster said there is a need for law enforcement, long-term education programs and treatment opportunities.

Connection Overcomes Addiction
Connection Overcomes Addiction
Connection Overcomes Addiction

For family members who already lost their relatives to overdose, events like Connection Overcomes Addiction can help keep the memory of their loved ones alive, said Dawn Harris who lost her 19-year-old son in 2017.

“For every bereaved parent,” she said, “the biggest fear is that their child’s name was stopped being spoken.”

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Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.