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The United States has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, and Arkansas is no exception.

The state lost 169 residents to opioid overdose in 2016, and enough prescriptions were written for every Arkansan to have 80 pills per year.

Rather than ignore this disease, it is time we face it head on.

Recently, the National Safety Council unveiled its Prescribed to Death opioid memorial in Fayetteville thanks to a partnership with Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, who has shown great leadership on this issue. The memorial's visit--coupled with the Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Summit held in Hot Springs on Nov. 1--makes this a fitting time to look more closely at the actions Arkansas has taken to combat this historic epidemic.

Earlier this year, Arkansas was one of just eight states to earn a failing grade in the National Safety Council report Prescription Nation. This rating was based on six specific key actions states can take to address the opioid crisis.

While Arkansas earned high marks in the report for mandating use of a prescription drug monitoring program and increasing access to naloxone as a means to reverse opioid overdoses and save lives, not enough was being done in the state to address over-prescribing, data collection, or ensuring access to evidence-based treatment.

Thanks to concrete steps taken by Gov. Asa Hutchison and the Arkansas legislature, this has changed.

While Arkansas has been ranked as having the second highest rate of opioid prescribing in the country, changes have been made to prescriber education to ensure only those who really need opioid pills--which can be highly addictive--receive them. New prescribers are now mandated to take five hours of education on opioid prescribing before receiving a license, and current prescribers have to take yearly education to maintain a license.

In addition, prescribers will have to follow guidelines on the appropriate prescribing of opioids. This will reduce the number of pills in circulation, minimizing the chance that opioids will fall into the wrong hands.

Action has also been taken to increase access to treatment in Arkansas. Research shows medication assisted treatment (MAT) which combines psychological and behavioral therapy with FDA-approved medications (such as methadone, buprenorphine or naltrexone) is the most effective way to help those struggling with opioid use disorders. Arkansas has provided funding to regional providers in order to increase access to MAT.

Additional support has also been provided to inmates as they re-integrate into society to help ensure they remain sober. This includes MAT, peer recovery support and education.

We need good data to fully understand and address the scope of the opioid crisis. This is especially important when it comes to screening for and identifying all drugs present in overdose fatalities. Arkansas has begun to make strides in this area by implementing a new program for coroners to streamline death investigations and provide real-time data, allowing for a targeted response to overdose hotspots as they occur.

A National Safety Council survey found one in four Americans has been directly impacted by opioid misuse. They have either been addicted themselves, know someone who is, or have lost someone to an overdose. These are our family members, neighbors and friends.

By continuing to concentrate on prevention and treatment, Arkansas has not only taken steps to stop opioid dependence before it starts, but it is also helping those who are suffering get back on their feet. We don't abandon our loved ones when they struggle with diseases like diabetes, and this struggle with the disease of addiction should be no different. It is critical to maintain and increase such programs to prevent needless deaths and save countless lives.

Deborah A.P. Hersman is president and CEO of the National Safety Council.

Editorial on 11/11/2018

Print Headline: Arkansas and the opioid epidemic

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