Weekly Columns

Since 2010, citizens across our state have participated in Arkansas Take Back to get expired, unused and unwanted prescription drugs out of their homes. This program was launched because families and individuals continue to experience the serious consequences brought on by the escalating opioid epidemic.  

According to a recent study by the National Safety Council, Americans are more likely to die from opioid abuse than in a motor vehicle accident. A 2015 analysis by the group found that only one in five Americans consider prescription pain medication to be a serious threat.  

On average, 115 people die each day in the U.S. from opioid overdose and 40 percent of all opioid overdose deaths involve a prescription drug. Our state ranks second in the nation for over-prescribing opioid medications. More prescriptions are filled in Arkansas each year than there are people. In light of that reality, wecan be proud of the participation in Arkansas Take Back from people in all corners of the Natural State. These events have produced the return of 160 tons of unneeded medications, which amounts to more than 442 million pills, demonstrating that this campaign is succeeding in getting excess prescription drugs out of circulation. 

Defeating this epidemic is a priority and leaders at all levels of government are using a comprehensive approach to reverse the trend. This year the state legislature approved, and the governor signed into law, legislation to remove unnecessary restrictions to evidence-based treatment for opioid abuse. These efforts by state leaders have gained national attention. The American Medical Association applauded Arkansas for setting an example for other states to follow so patients don’t have to wait to receive FDA-approved medications proven to support recovery.    

Last congress, several pieces of legislation were passed and signed into law to improve the tools and resources available to fight opioid abuse and addiction, including the Opioid Crisis Response Act, an all-inclusive approach to countering the epidemic that includes a focus on recovery. 

There is a clear need to continue seeking out ways to help our family members and neighbors affected by this crisis. One such solution, as President Trump explained in his State of the Union address this year, is to eliminate the flow of drugs into our country. In early April, Attorney General William Barr echoed this sentiment before members of the Senate Appropriations Committee. In addition to drugs coming into the country through our southern border, Attorney General Barr also said the FBI is undertaking methods to reduce drug trafficking via the internet and through the mail.  

Federal resources are being deployed nationwide to break the cycle of addiction. During a visit to Searcy County in March, I saw how grant funds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services are being used to implement effective treatment, recovery and prevention methods at Boston Mountain Rural Health Center in Marshall. Improving its transportation and telehealth services has made a difference for patients. Several other facilities across the state have recently been awarded funds to give addicts and their families new hope in the fight against opioid abuse.

There is overwhelming support for and desire to turn the tide against the opioid epidemic. I’m committed to helping our state and the country continue developing strategies to combat prescription opioid abuse and improving access to treatment and recovery to save lives.