Governor looks to slow drug addiction epidemic

In October, we are bringing attention to the challenge of drug addiction, and today I’d like to highlight some efforts to slow it.

We are making progress in reducing the number of overdose deaths. Last year, we were down 18% over 2018, and this year, we were down another 17%. Arkansas’ rate of reduction is the second-best in the nation.

In September, we received news that we had been awarded a $21 million federal grant to expand substance-abuse-treatment programs.

And this month, I have proclaimed the week of Oct. 23 as National Red Ribbon Week and Oct. 28 as “Chasing the Dragon: Opioid Awareness Day in Arkansas.” “Drug Take Back Day” is Oct. 24.

Arkansas Drug Director Kirk Lane oversees Drug Take Back Day, which in the past 10 years has collected more than 200 tons of unused and out-of-date medicines for disposal. Kirk also has piloted the use of Naloxone, an antidote for legal opioids and heroin. His office has trained first responders, and they have supplied Narcan kits that have prevented more than 550 opioid overdose deaths since 2017. From March through July, EMS and hospitals have seen about 270 saves per month.

Another initiative is “Chasing the Dragon: Opioid Awareness Day in Arkansas.” It is a statewide project led by the FBI’s Little Rock field office. The group coordinates a simultaneous viewing of Chasing the Dragon in schools around the state. Chasing the Dragon is a frank DEA-FBI documentary that tells the true stories of young people trapped in a world of drugs. The viewing is on Oct. 28.

At a more personal level, a Northwest Arkansas couple founded the nonprofit Speakup About Drugs after their oldest son died of an overdose. He started smoking marijuana in the 11th grade and quickly moved to Adderall and then to Xanax. The family sought the help of doctors and counselors, and he was working hard to beat his addiction. But in 2017, when he was 21, he consumed a fatal dose of cocaine laced with fentanyl.

The mission of Speakup About Drugs is to educate, advocate, support, and prevent drug abuse and overdoses. They help people get into treatment. Gina Allgaier is the mom. She wants to see those struggling with addiction and their families put back together and healed. She praises Drug Take Back Day and says it has kept prescription drugs out of the hands of young people.

In Arkansas, we are seeking to raise awareness and prevent new victims from falling prey to addiction, and we want to ensure access to treatment for those who have. We want to reinforce our commitment to holding those who contribute to this epidemic accountable. This is a tough topic to talk about, but we must if we are to slow this epidemic. Thank you to all those who have joined forces against it.

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