We’ve heard too many tragic stories of families who have lost loved ones to the opioid crisis in Arkansas, including a mother whose son graduated from Parkview Magnet High School in Little Rock and attended the UALR who lost their battle with fentanyl addiction. – overdose laced at the age of 31 or from parents whose daughter, a nurse, was prescribed opioids after an accident, became addicted and finally lost her battle with the addiction.
These heartbreaking stories are just two of many more we’ve heard in Arkansas.
The opioid crisis is a tragedy of the Arkansan and the United States that represents a systemic and holistic failure of the American health and legal systems. The roots of the crisis date back to 1996 and the release of a new drug, OxyContin, by Purdue Pharma. Purdue cited a study from the New England Journal of Medicine that said its drug has a dependency rate of less than 1%.
This statistic, based neither on science nor on data, fueled the first wave of the opioid crisis: physician overprescribing.
Fast forward 25 years and, sadly, the opioid crisis has affected almost all Americans to some extent. In 2020, according to the Arkansas State Crime Lab, 225 Arkansans died of an opioid-related overdose, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it is estimated that more than 81,000 Americans were also killed. the deadliest year on record. Today, around 11 Arkansans are resuscitated daily from an opioid overdose by first responders.
Many are surprised to learn that Arkansas has the second highest prescription rate for opioids; our state has an average of 86.3 opioid prescriptions per 100 people. The national average is 46.7 opioid prescriptions per 100 people. While that number is steadily declining, it remains a concern because, according to the American Society of Addiction Medicine, four in five heroin users started with prescription opioids.
Arkansas’ journey with the opioid crisis is different from many other states as it was affected by the opioid crisis later than other states. As such, Arkansas was able to learn what was working well for other states and apply those same policies.
The Arkansas legislature has acted and passed several bills that Gov. Asa Hutchinson enacted. The first law, of 2015, established the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) providing our state with the ability to stop multiple fills of an opioid prescription.
A second law requires co-prescribing of an opioid reversal drug if an individual is prescribed an opioid, and the second makes it a crime to sell or traffic the deadly drug fentanyl. Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times stronger than heroin, and heroin is twice as strong as morphine, which is why it is so important to prevent the trafficking and sale of fentanyl. In Congress, Senator Tom Cotton and I introduced the Fentanyl Sanctions Act and took action and expanded the ban on fentanyl-related substances.
While opioid overdose deaths have increased from covid-19, Arkansas’ statistics were lower than other states. This is important because it shows that we are making progress in the fight against opioid use disorders, but that more can and must be done.
Arkansas must continue the progress it has made through PDMP, the NARCANsas program, and the Arkansas Peers Recovery Together program. We should also take the lessons, processes and best practices learned during the unprecedented covid-19 pandemic and replicate them to potentially save more lives.
Our state must capitalize on the momentum of co-prescribing and fentanyl legislation in the previous legislative session. Learning from covid, Arkansas must receive and report overdose data daily. The pandemic has also shown us how we can more effectively send messages and engage with the public on public health issues, and we should be using those same techniques and practices to tackle the opioid crisis.
As we continue to add constructive solutions to the opioid crisis, we must ensure that our law enforcement and legal community also have a seat at the table. They are part of the solution because many people in treatment are there because the legal system requires it. Continuing to have properly trained officers and an informed legal community allows us to connect people to much needed resources.
We are committed to working with other state and national leaders to break the ravages of drug addiction, help our families, and fight every day to keep illegal drugs out of the hands of our children.
For Arkansas and our nation to heal and move forward, we must learn from the past and work on constructive solutions that will save the lives of Arkansan and Americans from this deadly drug crisis in the future.
The American representative French Hill represents the 2nd district of Arkansas. Kirk Lane is the Arkansas director of drugs.