Lifelong Fairbanksan and Rasmuson Board member Jeff Cook cares a lot about the health of his community. That's why he lauds “Paths to Recovery: Solving Alaska’s alcohol problem,” a series of articles produced through the partnership of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and Recover Alaska. Read his post.

Rasmuson Foundation Board member Jeff Cook published this guest commentary July 11 in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

I am a life-long Alaskan who was born and raised in Fairbanks, and there are few things that are more important to me than the health of my community. As a board member at Rasmuson Foundation, I am pleased with the newest partnership between the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner and Recover Alaska that will address the impacts of excessive consumption of alcohol on the Interior.

Alcohol and substance abuse in our state continues to have significant economic, social and health impacts — contributing to a loss of job productivity, an increase in health care costs, juvenile delinquency, homelessness and health complications, to name a few. The financial impact on the Alaska economy is approximately $1.2 billion. Alcohol use and abuse is the most important health issue for Alaskans, with abuse of other substances identified as No. 4.

The issue of excessive consumption of alcohol is too complex for any one entity to address alone. Recover Alaska, a multi-sector action group formed by concerned citizens and funded by a number of stakeholders including the Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Mat-Su Health Foundation, State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, and Southcentral Foundation, is dedicated to reducing the harm caused by excessive alcohol consumption in Alaska. (You can learn about its efforts here.)

With a focus on making systemic changes rather than addressing isolated symptoms of the issue, the News-Miner project will take an in-depth look at the over-consumption of alcohol in the Interior in a series called “Paths to Recovery: Solving Alaska’s alcohol problem.”

The series may not always be easy to read, there will be controversy and it may hit too close to home for some. But the most difficult conversations we have — both personally and professionally — are about alcohol.

The partnership brings the talents of investigative journalists to the issue and provides a public platform on which to report their findings. Recover Alaska will not attempt to exert any editorial control over the direction or content of the series, however, working with the News-Miner, we have established an advisory group to provide support for News-Miner journalists in doing their work. Funding for the project is provided by the Recover Alaska Media Project fund at the Alaska Community Foundation. Contributors to the project are Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Mat-Su Health Foundation, Southcentral Foundation, Providence Health and Services, Doyon Limited and Rasmuson Foundation.

The series launches today and will be based on a solutions-based approach to journalism. Solutions-based journalism investigates the ways people work to resolve social problems in their communities. The collaboration follows on the heels of Recover Alaska’s award-winning partnership with the former Anchorage Daily News on the “State of Intoxication” series. This series made a significant impact on awareness of the harms associated with excessive alcohol consumption in Alaska for public audiences as well as for lawmakers.

Openness and transparency in this project will be a priority and, as mentioned, a community advisory group has been organized to assist the News-Miner editorial team with background information and sources. The group includes representatives from the Homeless Coalition, Fairbanks Police Department, borough schools, Tanana Chiefs Conference, bar owners and others.

The group will also host public listening sessions for the community to discuss the topics, provide feedback and offer solutions. We invite you to join us.

This is our chance to come together for our community, for our family and friends. Let’s all work toward a healthy future in this beautiful place we call home.

Jeff Cook was regional director of external affairs for Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC, until his retirement in June. He is an active member of the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce’s Government Affairs Committee and the Fairbanks Rotary Club, president of the Greater Fairbanks Community Hospital Foundation board and a board member for Rasmuson Foundation and the Alaska State Chamber of Commerce. He was born and raised in Fairbanks.