Weekly Columns

According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 20 million Americans misused prescription pain relievers, stimulants, tranquilizers or sedatives that year. A majority of these misused prescription drugs came from family and friends’ home medicine cabinets.

Clearly our nation continues to battle an epidemic of substance abuse – particularly the misuse of prescription medications. The results have been tragic.

In Arkansas, we are intimately familiar with the consequences.

In 2020, over 500 Arkansans died from drug overdoses, an increase of 195 from the previous year. Drug overdoses have been the second leading cause of accidental deaths in Arkansas since 2010, and many of those overdoses can be attributed to opioid misuse. Last year, for the first time in our state’s history, fentanyl surpassed methamphetamine to become the deadliest drug.

Thankfully, there are multiple efforts underway to combat this crisis, bring overdose deaths down, and treat and prevent substance abuse.

One such initiative is a partnership between the federal Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and state and local law enforcement agencies called National Drug Take Back Day. Twice per year, a concerted campaign is organized and promoted by DEA along with state and local partners to encourage Americans to properly dispose of prescription drugs and curb their abuse.

The Natural State has fully embraced this approach to ridding homes of expired and unused prescription medications. Arkansas Drug Director Kirk Lane has mobilized support for Arkansas Take Back, which each spring and fall facilitates numerous collection sites in communities across the state. Here Arkansans can bring their surplus medicines and have confidence they will be safely discarded instead of winding up in the wrong hands. To date, Arkansas has collected 442,162 pounds (221 tons) of prescription drugs through Take Back events.

In recent years, we had actually been reducing overdose deaths through a combination of prevention and addiction treatment services, as well as widespread deployment of Naloxone, sometimes referred to as Narcan, which is used to reverse the effects of an opioid-induced overdose.

The second Drug Take Back Day in 2021 is quickly approaching and presents an opportunity to once again clean out our homes and medicine cabinets. On Saturday, October 23, over 250 locations will be collecting expired and unneeded medications. If you need to find the closest collection site to your home, just visit artakeback.org.

I’ve been proud to back federal efforts to help combat the opioid epidemic, including increasing resources for law enforcement, allocating money to grant programs that help state and local governments offset the costs of opioid abuse and providing funds for research into opioid addiction and alternative treatments.

We all have a part to play in getting these medications off the streets and out of the hands of our family, friends and neighbors who might misuse them accidentally or intentionally. I will continue to support policies and programs that offer solutions to help get this crisis under control, save lives, and restore families and communities that have suffered so deeply from the effects of these drugs.

There’s no doubt our state and the country suffered a setback in drug abuse because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but that does not mean we can’t get back on the right track. The first step will be to join together and commit to safely, securely disposing of potentially dangerous medications at the upcoming Arkansas Take Back events. I encourage all Arkansans to take that step.