Stepping up to lead in the face of crisis AAC

sentatives and was elected Majority Leader by his peers. Pitsch has sponsored major tax cut and economic development bills during his tenure in the House. However, his passion is in- frastructure. He is an engineer by trade and works with the Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority on the Arkansas River port project. Te Majority Leader knows all the big issues fac- ing the state and counties, so I was expecting him to talk about county and state infrastructure problems. He took his speech in a totally different direction — and opened the eyes of many people in the room. “We all get wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of the job


we were elected to, but sometimes we need to step back and look at the whole picture,” Pitsch said. Rep. Pitsch went on to cite statistics that a lot of Arkansas

leaders do not know or do not want to hear. Arkansas has the fourth highest teen pregnancy rate, with 12 teenagers a day becoming pregnant. More than 800 children were sexually molested last year in Arkansas, and 32 percent of third graders aren’t reading at grade level. Tese numbers are shocking, and it’s hard to comprehend when you hear them all at once. Rep. Pitsch focused on the third graders and said, “Te first

few years you learn to read then you read to learn. How are these kids going to learn if they are still learning to read?” “You are all leaders in your community, and who is going to fix these problems,” he asked. “If not us, then who will step up?” In 1995 Dolly Parton launched her Imagination Library, in-

spired by her own father’s inability to read or write. She deter- mined there had to be a way to help children fall in love with books. Te program sent free books to children from birth to age 5 and helped inspire a love of reading in many of these children. With more than 70 million free, age-appropriate books mailed to date, the Imagination Library is just getting started — and there seems to be no slowing down in sight. Tis is a proven program that enables kids to be on track to read proficiently by third grade. State Rep. Mark Lowery from Maumelle and state Rep. Clark

Tucker of Little Rock, along with Rep. Pitsch, provided leader- ship to secure $750,000 for the Imagination Library in the last session. I understand most counties cannot appropriate money for programs like this because the budgets are so tight, and elected officials have many mandates they must fund. Leaders can step up and bring attention to it and encourage others to support initiatives that move our counties forward. President Donald Trump has declared the nation’s opioid epidemic a public health emergency. Every person I know knows someone who has been affected by this crisis. Arkan-


attended the County Judges’ Association of Arkansas (CJAA) summer meeting in Fort Smith, where the lunch speaker was state Rep. Mat Pitsch. Rep. Pitsch is serving his second term in the state House of Repre-


sas is No. 2 per capita nationwide in the number of opioid prescrip- tions written. Arkansas’ opioid cri- sis is even worse than America’s. An enormous amount of attention has been paid to opioids over the last few months. We have seen leaders at the federal and state levels bring people together to fight this crisis. Te AAC has stepped up and taken the lead at the local level. AAC Ex- ecutive Director Chris Villines or- ganized and appointed six county elected officials to an opioid task force.

Josh Curtis

Governmental Affairs Director

Te task force has reviewed steps elected officials can take to

address the crisis — steps that don’t cost counties any money. Tey have recognized that county officials need to lead the conversation about the opioid crisis, set the tone of the con- versation to break the silence, and chip away at the stigma of addiction. Te group agreed there is a need for education and prevention. Tese efforts don’t require an appropriation. Prevention starts with increasing public awareness about the dangers of prescription painkillers and heroin. Reach children inside and outside of the schools. Partner with state Drug Director’s office on Prescription Drug Take Back events and work together to secure a 24-hour prescription drop-off box at every county sheriff’s office in the state. All of these things will build unity and solidify one message to fight this crisis. Te next couple of action items require funds that counties do not have. Te task force backed a plan for the counties to collectively take legal action against the pharmaceutical com- panies that have poisoned our counties. Counties need money to fix the problem, to establish more treatment centers. Te two biggest budget items at both the state and county levels is health care and the criminal justice system. Spending money on the front end to help Arkansans with an addiction problem will curb the cost and save money in the long run. One tool that helps save lives right now is Naloxone. I

worked for Gov. Asa Hutchinson during the 90th General Assembly when legislation creating the Naloxone Access Act was passed. I worked with former Benton Chief of Police Kirk Lane to shape that law, which provided law enforcement the ability to carry this drug in their cars. Naloxone is a drug that reverses an overdose, giving first responders more time to save lives. Since the passage of the law, there have been 15 docu- mented cases of lives saved. Lane now serves as the Governor’s State Drug Director. Director Lane sat in on the first county opioid task force meeting and provided an abundant amount of knowledge. He looks forward to teaming up with all coun- ties to end the opioid crisis.


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