BY MELANIE WADE –
An opioid epidemic is happening across the nation, the state of Arkansas, and even Polk County is no exception to the rampant progression of addiction it brings. Acording to the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, admissions for the treatment of opioids increased 250% between 2005 and 2009, and although newer numbers have not yet been calculated, arrest records and the increase of admissions in treatment centers prove the statistics continue to grow at dramatic rates.
The National Drug Institute describes opioids as “a class of drugs that include the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain relievers available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone (OxyContin®), hydrocodone (Vicodin®), codeine, morphine, and many others.”
Although illegal heroin has been used on the streets for years, in more recent years, the availability of prescription drugs has ballooned and affects every societal class, the young to the elderly, and everyone in between.
Polk County Sheriff Scott Sawyer said he watches drug trends often, as it is a focus of his administration. He said a few years ago, heroin made a “comeback” in California via “housewives.” Many times, opioid addictions begin with a prescription written by their doctor for pain, whether from headaches, surgery, or chronic illness. “They [the housewives] found out that heroin was cheaper on the streets than their prescriptions were.”
This is the battle Sheriff Sawyer and his department battle each and every day. Many of their arrests are from addicts that began with a legal prescription, became addicted, and when the doctors wouldn’t write another prescription, they found it on the streets. When they can’t find one drug, often times, they are led to another with a similar affect, such as heroin.
Although heroin is not something encountered in Polk County often, there have been two arrests made this year where heroin was confiscated. “I’ve been in law enforcement for 25 years and had seen two heroin arrests. Now, there have been that many this year. That’s the way it begins,” said Sawyer. And that is just what they are trying to combat, along with the state’s legislators and governor.
The Arkansas Association of Counties has formed a five-member Opioid Task Force to address the epidemic. “The costs to our society are incredibly high and for counties, the societal impact directly impacts our bottom line in jail costs, clogged courtrooms, and extra law enforcement on the streets,” said AAC Executive Director Chris Villines. For their part, the AAC set two initial goals. One, to create an educational program that will increase the public’s awareness of the dangers of opioids, and two, to help first responders gain access to the training and Naloxone they need to manage an overdose. To read the full impact and scope of the Opioid Task Force, see the full article by the AAC on page 18 of this edition.
Sawyer said his department is also looking to receive the training for Narcan, an opiate antidote, as overdoses in the county have also risen due to opioids. He said that not only have their been several cases of opioid overdoses in the county this year, but that several have resulted in death. Sawyer also said that arrests have “doubled this year” compared to last year.
U.S. Senators John Boozman and Tom Cotton, along with Congressmen Rick Crawford, French Hill, Steve Womack, and Bruce Westerman, welcomed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announcement that it is awarding a grant to the University of Arkansas Agricultural Extension Service aimed at helping prevent opioid abuse among Arkansans in rural communities.
In 2016, Arkansas saw the number of opioid-related deaths rise from 287 to 335, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arkansas Health Department Director Nate Smith reported to state lawmakers that 235.9 million pills were sold across the state that year. Arkansas is in the top 20% of states that prescribe the most painkillers per capita.
“The opioid crisis has been devastating and has resulted in a dramatic spike in our state’s overdose rate. Residents of rural areas are sometimes the most likely to lack access to the care and services needed to treat addiction. This grant will help providers and patients find creative ways to deliver treatments and prevent misuse and abuse of opioids,” Boozman said. Read the full op-ed released by Senator Boozman’s office on page 18 of this edition.
On the local level, Sawyer said their Drug Take Back Program is one way they are helping to combat the issue. Where youth once snuck into their parents’ liquor cabinets, they are now finding their way into the medicine cabinets. “Everyone has left over pills from a prescription. We need those to be dropped into the drug take back box here at he courthouse or attend one of our events so that we can keep those pills out of the hands of children.” Sawyer also warned against “flushing” the pills due to them flooding the water system, and in turn, groundwater, with harmful substances.
The FBI and DEA held a viewing of ‘Chasing the Dragon: The Life of an Opiate Addict’ documentary at the Mena High School Performing Arts Center recently. The documentary was created to help students develop a deeper understanding of the crisis and to witness the dangers of opioids and their addictions through people who have battled it themselves.”
Sawyer also explained the many ways an addicted person can get help to fight that battle. In Polk County, there are several programs, from Narcotics Anonymous to New Vision, a detox clinic through the local hospital, counselors, and more. “Just locking up addicts doesn’t help,” said Sawyer. “We’ve got to get them treatment.”
For citizens to aid in the fight, Sawyer says to lock your pills up, turn in unused pills, and encourage loved ones to get help.