Weekly Columns

Opioid misuse and abuse has devastated communities in Arkansas and prompted a whole-of-government response to combat it, but hard-fought progress against the deadly consequences is now in view.

Drug overdoses in Arkansas decreased by 13 percent in 2023, the second consecutive year there was a decline in the number of fatalities from overdoses in our state, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The national average of overdose deaths in 2023 also fell by about three percent – the first time since 2018 that the drug overdose rate has declined nationally.

One reason for the year-over-year drop in overdose deaths is the distribution of naloxone, an anti-overdose drug that counteracts the effects of opioids. Tens of thousands of Arkansans have obtained and been taught how to administer it, including through a program called Narcansas that borrows its name from Narcan, the name brand version of this antidote. Prescriptions for the emergency medication at pharmacies have also been increasing, climbing by 340 percent from June 2021 to June 2022.

Another part of the solution to this crisis has been the rising awareness and investment in opioid abuse, treatment and recovery programs, which the Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership has led the way on by providing nearly $23 million toward in the last two years.

The organization, founded by the Arkansas Municipal League and Arkansas Association of Counties with $300 million from an opioid settlement, along with others in our state are helping educate and fight back against prescription and illicit drugs harming Arkansans from every walk of life.

Congress has also worked hard to curb the opioid epidemic and save lives through multiple reforms, including provisions passed in 2022 that allow physicians to prescribe a treatment for opioid addiction, buprenorphine, without obtaining a waiver from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and requiring providers to undergo eight hours of training on substance abuse disorders before obtaining or renewing a DEA registration to prescribe opioids.

We also crafted and approved comprehensive legislation to address this crisis by supplying law enforcement with additional tools to halt the spread of opioids, including highly dangerous synthetic versions like fentanyl, in addition to supporting programs for Americans struggling with addiction and expanding research into non-addictive pain treatments.

Additionally, the president signed into law earlier this year legislation that enables government agencies to disrupt the trafficking of fentanyl and impose sanctions on money laundering that makes the flow of this drug into our communities profitable.

Informing the public that even one inadvertent consumption can cause death is also important. That’s why I joined other members of Congress with medical backgrounds to warn unsuspecting Americans that just one pill can kill. Our public service announcement reminds us all to never take any drug except those personally prescribed by your physician and filled by your pharmacist, while also imploring parents and teachers to discuss these risks with children before it’s too late.

We have also regularly promoted opportunities for Arkansans to safely dispose of unused or expired medications to keep them out of the wrong hands. To date, more than 300 tons of medications have been collected at approved sites through Arkansas Take Back events held biannually since 2010.

These are all important steps to reduce overdoses and it is encouraging to see that they may be succeeding. Our ultimate goal is to save as many lives as possible and keep our guard up against more drugs flowing into our communities. Together, we will continue tackling this challenge head-on for the good of our families, friends and neighbors.