Weekly Columns

The opioid epidemic took the lives of 72,000 Americans last year. Opioid abuse doesn’t discriminate, it threatens nearly every community across the United States.

Congress is aggressively working to combat this problem by expanding prevention efforts, empowering law enforcement and increasing access to treatment. President Trump recently signed into law added opioid crisis response funding and now additional legislation aimed at turning the tide is headed to his desk.

In early October, the Senate joined the House and passed a comprehensive opioid response package. It contains a wide array of avenues to counter the crisis, including ways to get individuals the help and support they need to recover. The bill focuses on prevention, treatment, providing additional law enforcement tools and expanding research into non-addictive pain treatments.

The legislation also enhances a grant program to train first responders administering naloxone, the drug that can be used to block the effects of opioids and prevent deaths from an overdose. 

Since 2017, the Arkansas Naloxone Project has trained more than 3,300 first responders to administer the drug. This effort has saved at least 142 lives. The program continues to grow. Other states can replicate the success of Arkansas by utilizing these grant funds to train first responders.

Not only does this legislation help those already impacted by this crisis, it also aims to stop even more lethal drugs like fentanyl from getting into the country by improving detection of prohibited drugs being illegally imported through the mail.

The opioid epidemic has been keenly felt within our veteran population. During a bipartisan forum on opioid abuse last month, I highlighted the work we’ve done and continue to do to help veterans living with substance abuse. 

We’ve established a drug take-back program in coordination with the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); promoted flexibility in pain management by encouraging alternative treatments such as therapies that involve animals, outdoor activities and meditation; as well as provided more funding to Veterans Treatment Courts. We also improved VA policy to require practitioners to consult the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) database when prescribing medication in order to more closely monitor a veteran’s prescription history. 

The opioid epidemic directly touches veterans and virtually all Arkansans. We all have a stake in this fight. If individuals are living healthier lives they will be able to be more productive citizens, and help their communities thrive. 

In recent weeks, Arkansas has received millions of dollars in additional federal funding to combat this crisis. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing more than $150,000 to convert the former Jackson County jail into the White River Women’s Shelter to provide prevention, recovery and treatment services to individuals recovering from opioid misuse. Additionally, nearly $3 million was awarded to several Arkansas Community Health Centers to help these facilities that are on the frontlines of the opioid epidemic.

Additional funding and policy updates are just a small piece of the puzzle. Together we can make a real difference and change the conversations we have around opioid abuse and addiction to focus not on the lives taken, but on the lives saved.