Weekly Columns

Communities throughout Arkansas and across the country are filled with unsung heroes. High at the top of that list would be the first responders and public safety community, the men and women who show up to help in times of crisis and serve their families, friends and neighbors at a moment’s notice.

I am excited to announce that I’ll be highlighting the work of first responders all over the state during my upcoming “Every Second Counts” Tour from October 24th-27th. This will be a wonderful opportunity to meet with law enforcement, firefighters, Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and other first responders to thank them, show them our support and discuss issues important to them. I’m eager to listen to these public servants and learn more about the issues they are facing, as well as offer ways to help.

Certainly, high up on that list is the struggle to counter the ongoing opioid epidemic that is exploding in our nation. Unfortunately, Arkansas is not immune to this problem. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data shows that it’s one of 12 states with more painkiller prescriptions than people.

Prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the country. The availability of prescription painkillers is a leading factor in the increase of opioid abuse. Since 1999, opioid overdose deaths have quadrupled nationwide.

That’s why I supported a bill that was signed into law this summer called the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA). This comprehensive response to fighting this epidemic gives hope to families with loved ones struggling with addiction by expanding prevention, education, treatment and recovery efforts.

First responders are on the frontlines of this crisis. EMTs and paramedics are called to the scene to treat those who overdose on prescription painkillers. Law enforcement officers are often tasked with responding to incidents surrounding the use or illegal distribution of opioids. While Congress is trying to help by passing laws like CARA, the men and women who serve their communities every day to assist their friends and neighbors who are hurting are the ones who are truly saving lives. A perfect example was on display in Benton recently when officers used Naloxone, a counter agent to opiate prescription drugs and heroin, to save someone from dying from an overdose.

Of course, law enforcement officials, 911 dispatchers, firefighters and EMTs perform countless other roles in our society from responding to emergencies to maintaining public safety and promoting programs and services that help our communities in both big and small ways.

First responders invest so much of their time and efforts into public service. Often, their jobs can feel stressful and thankless. I want to take this opportunity to commend them for their tireless efforts because we need their knowledge and skill sets to help keep our communities safe.

I look forward to spending several days with first responders and public safety officials throughout Arkansas. Hearing directly from these extraordinary heroes and getting the opportunity to thank them and share our support for them in-person is the least we can do.

Please join in with me by using the hashtag #EverySecondCounts on social media to express your gratitude to the men and women who are always ready and willing to respond to a call for help. We owe them that and so much more.