U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams is in Alaska to learn more about our state’s struggle with the opioid epidemic.

On Tuesday, Dr. Adams was a panelist at the 2018 Alaska Prevention Summit in Palmer where he discussed how to curb the problem by disposing of leftover prescriptions.

“The first drug dealer, for a majority of folks, isn’t some bad guy out on the street, it’s grandma,” Dr. Adams said. “It’s a next door neighbor. It’s you all, it’s us who have left medications in our cabinets.”

That message hit home for Kelly Marre, one of more than 100 people who turned out to the summit. Her son got hooked on opioids after trying a neighbor’s prescription drugs when he was 14.

“I talked to my son about drugs. I told him the first time you used you’re probably going to get addicted because addiction runs in both sides of our family. I said all the right things, I thought,” Marre said.

Now, more than a decade, he still battles addiction and heroin use.

“There have been many nights I cried myself to sleep. It’s been tough,” Marre said.

Alaska is making strides in the right, though.

The state’s chief medical officer, Dr. Jay Butler, said there are more treatment beds and the distribution of more than 10,000 Narcan overdose kits is saving lives. The biggest focus now is on an even deadlier drug.

“Anytime you’re using a drug purchased off the street, it’s a game of Russian Roulette-- but with Fentanyl, there are more bullets in the chamber,” Dr. Butler said.

Mat-Su Health Foundation Executive Director, Elizabeth Ripley, said emergency room doctors at Mat-Su Regional Hospital have cut the number of opioid prescriptions they write by 60-percent in the past two years.

They’re helping others do the same.

“Under Dr. (Anne) Zinke, our medical director’s leadership, she helped spearhead statewide a adoption of prescribing practice for all emergency departments across the State of Alaska,” Ripley said.

Marre hopes reducing the number of prescription and encouraging people to dispose of their leftover medications will prevent other people from ending up like her son.

“He made that initial choice but once you make that choice, the choice is taken away from you and then you become addicted,” Marre said.

Rear Adm. Michael D. Weahkee is the current acting director of the Indian Health Service. He spoke with KTVA about solutions to the opioid epidemic while visiting Alaska.

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