It's been declared a public health crisis. In 2016, drug overdose was Alaska's leading cause of accidental death, according to the Alaska Dept. of Health and Social Services.

Opioid addiction has been driving the epidemic, but in the Mat-Su, doctors say they're making headway starting in the emergency room.

Dr. Anne Zink, medical director at Mat-Su Regional Hospital joined KTVA's First Take at Five to talk about how the hospital has reduced opioid use in its emergency room by more than 60 percent in the last two years. 

“When you see patients in the emergency department day after day, struggling with addiction or seeing the consequences of an overdose, and the worst is having to tell a parent that they’ve lost their loved one to an overdose, you realize that you have to become involved in the policy as well as the press in what this addiction and what this epidemic is doing,” Zink said. 

Zink has been involved in an effort to establish new guidelines for opioid use in emergency rooms statewide, which she says has contributed to the reduction in the circulation of the medication. 

"Four percent of the opiates given in any sort of area are given from the emergency department, so we actually don’t write for that many pills, yet we may be the first place that someone is exposed to an opiate," Zink explained. 

Zink says work is far from over, as she continues to work with Alaska's congressional delegation on the issue.

Questions or comments about this story? Email reporter Liz Raines.

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