Weekly Columns

Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the country. It’s a problem that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies as an epidemic. The availability of prescription painkillers is a leading factor in the increase of opioid abuse. Since 1999, opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled. Nationwide 44 people die from prescription abuse or misuse every day. According to the CDC, it’s disproportionately impacting citizens of rural counties who are almost twice as likely to overdose on prescription painkillers as those in large cities. 

Unfortunately, Arkansas is not immune to this problem. According to the CDC, it’s one of 12 states with more painkiller prescriptions than people. 

Benton Police Chief Kirk Lane has seen the problem grow in his community and across the state. 

“People don’t understand how dangerous and addicting opioids can be,” Lane recently said during a visit to my Washington office. “A lot of people become addicted very innocently, they’re going through some pain trauma and they get involved in this and can’t find a way back.” 

It’s a problem impacting all ages. After responding to incidents that occurred as a result of teenage prescription drug abuse, in 2010 the Benton Police Department launched a drug education program to educate law enforcement and schools about prescription drug abuse and misuse.

The same year, a program created to collect unused prescription drugs launched. Arkansas Take Back is making a big difference by decreasing the availability of prescription drugs and properly disposing of expired and unneeded medication.

This is a critical step to addressing the opioid crisis. The Office of National Drug Control Policy found that more than 70 percent of Americans misusing painkillers are getting them from friends and family. 

Arkansas Take Back is responsible for removing more than 72 tons of unneeded medication, estimated at 201 million pills from Arkansas homes. Help reduce the risk of developing addictions to prescription drugs by participating in the next drug take back day on Saturday, April 30. 

Congress is responding to this crisis to improve our nation’s response to addiction and promote treatment and recovery. 

Last week I spoke on the Senate floor in support of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). This legislation provides a series of incentives and resources designed to encourage states and local communities to pursue proven strategies to combat addiction and support individuals in recovery. This bill can help give communities the ability to combat the growing opioid epidemic in Arkansas and across the country. 

The bill also authorizes the Attorney General to award grants to Veterans Treatment Courts. As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee I’m working with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to create a connected network of VA pharmacies to protect against potential abuse and correct the practice of overprescribing pain medication to decrease dependency on opioids. 

This comes on the heels of passage of legislation in 2015 to improve the prevention of treatment of opioid abuse by pregnant women and care for newborns affected by this abuse. 

Prescription drug abuse is a widespread problem that impacts all ages and populations of Americans. I’m committed to providing Arkansas communities the tools they need to fight this epidemic.