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Unalaska behavioral health provider says privacy challenges in a small town shouldn't hinder substance misuse treatment


Privacy can be challenging in Unalaska, which has 4,254 residents. But when it comes to substance misuse treatment, local behavioral health providers are working to make sure privacy isn’t a barrier.

Heidi Lucking is a behavioral health provider for the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association in Unalaska. She said substance misuse is prevalent in the community.

“It's definitely become something bigger than we would hope to where we want this community to be safe and healthy,” Lucking said.

Seeking treatment for substance misuse can be extra sensitive for patients. Federal laws prohibit sharing a patient’s health information without their consent. But Lucking said the laws can’t stop what people can see out on the street.

“That doesn't prevent people from seeing their car parked outside or them walking into an office,” Lucking said. “It can be really challenging, especially in a small community, to keep your privacy a lot of the time.”

She said people might seek treatment in private because there’s a negative stigma associated with substance misuse. Lucking said she wants to change that in Unalaska.

“My first thing is like, let's combat the stigma because if people are finding help that's great, that's amazing,” Lucking said. “I think there shouldn't be any stigma, but a lot of people look negatively at it. So, it's really hard to come around and find a way that works for you, if you're not ready to just be open with it.”

For now, the regional health care provider is trying to make seeking treatment as easy as possible. Lucking said they provide telehealth services where patients can get treatment online. They also encourage patients to think “outside of the box” — like taking a taxi to a provider's office, so they don’t have to park their car in front of a building they don’t typically frequent.

“You kind of have to get creative with it almost,” Lucking said.

Lucking leads Unalaska’s Community Action Group. They hold a monthly meeting where community members come together to address local mental health and substance issues. She hopes by creating spaces for the community to become more knowledgeable about substance misuse, it’ll dissolve negative stigmas about it. So, when people do seek treatment, they don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed.

If you or someone you know is interested in substance misuse treatment, call APIA at 907-581-2751 or USAFV at (907) 581-1500. Or text USAFV at (907) 359-1500.

Sofia was born and raised in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. She’s reported around the U.S. for local public radio stations, NPR and National Native News. Sofia has a Master of Arts in Environmental Science and Natural Resource Journalism from the University of Montana, a graduate certificate in Documentary Studies from the Salt Institute and a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Arts from the University of Colorado Boulder. In between her studies, Sofia was a ski bum in Telluride, Colorado for a few years.
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