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AAC


legislation in 2011 authorizing the setup of state PMP’s that encourage practitioners to monitor the dispensing of opioids and prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone codeine and fentanyl. Under the program, each time a controlled substance is hand- ed out to an individual, the dispenser submits the information to the state’s central repository weekly, providing a Sunday through Saturday window into the misuse and abuse of prescription drugs. It also gives doctors and other medical practitioners, as well as law enforcement agents and other authorized individuals and agencies, access to prescription drug data to help ensure the legal use of controlled substances in health care. In the recent legislative session, Republican lawmakers Sen.


Jeremy Hutchinson of Little Rock and Rep. Kim Hammer of Benton updated the 2011 law, sponsoring Act 820 of 2017 that now mandates prescribers of opioids to enter information on controlled prescription drugs to patients into the state’s PMP database. In 2013, Arkansas lawmakers followed up the PMP legisla- tion with Act 1331, which prevents Arkansas patients from ob- taining opioids and other addictive drugs through forgery, fraud and deceit to prevent doctor shopping. However, it was the 2015 session when lawmakers introduced at least a half dozen bills that addressed the emerging health crisis. Te key legislation was the Arkansas Prescription Drug Abuse Act, which allows the Department of Health to develop algorithms to determine if a patient is being prescribed opioids within a 30-day period by more than three physicians. It also lets prescribers delegate ac- cess to the PMP database, sets up opioid prescribing guidelines for emergency departments, and provides immunity for good faith reporting of suspected drug diversion. Other legislation in the 2015 session allowed wider access to the PMP database, including giving law enforcement investi- gators access to information to aid in criminal investigations. Other key bills gave healthcare professionals access to nalox- one and immunity from administrating the drug that blocks


COVER STORY


opiate receptors, and created a legislative task force to make sure those caught up in the criminal justice system can get behavioral treatment for substance abuse disorders.


High school education, federal help


Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge has announced a number of opioid-related initiatives that make use of pre- ventative measures and law enforcement methods to fight the growing epidemic in local communities. In late July at the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Association annual meeting in Northwest Arkansas, Rutledge announced a no-cost, CDC-approved ed- ucation curriculum to be offered to all Arkansas high school students to help them understand the dangers of prescription drug misuse and how to prevent abuse. “Talking about the harmful impact of prescription drug abuse with children and teenagers can no longer be a goal. It has to be a reality,” Attorney General Rutledge said. “Arkansas ranks first in the nation for ages 12 to 17 in misuse of painkill- ers. Reversing this trend is a top priority of mine. Prescription for Life will be available to every high school student in Arkan- sas beginning this fall.” On Aug. 17, U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, intro-


duced a bipartisan bill that will help rural communities bolster their efforts to fight the opioid and addiction epidemic. Un- der the Addiction Recovery for Rural Communities Act, rural communities would be able to better leverage U.S. Depart- ment of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development programs to combat opioid and heroin use. “Te cost of opioid addiction goes beyond the heartbreaking individual loss of life: there’s also law enforcement and health care costs that weigh on all of us,” Crawford said. “But in rural America, treatment can be hard to administer, and the same tactics that work in urban areas aren’t as effective in places like the 1st District. We want to do our part at the federal level to help the folks at home who are dealing with this problem day in and day out.”


Arkansas’ opioid epidemic by the numbers


• Opioids are responsible for 75 per- cent of all prescription drug over- dose deaths.


• 235.9 million pills were sold across Arkansas in 2016.


• Arkansas ranks in the top 20 percent of states that prescribe the most painkillers.


COUNTY LINES, FALL 2017


• 1,067 people have died in Arkansas since 2013 from a drug overdose.


• Arkansas has the second-highest opi- oid prescription rate in the nation.


• Arkansas was home to the highest rate of teen prescription drug abuse across the country in 2013.


Information from the Centers for Disease Control and Arkansas Department of Human Services 31


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