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Drug Overdose Fatalities in Arkansas Decline Again

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LITTLE ROCK – The number of fatalities in Arkansas due to drug overdoses declined faster than the national average last year, according to records maintained by the Centers for Disease Control.

From 2022 to 2023 the number of fatalities dropped by 13.7 percent, from 591 fatalities caused by an overdose to 510 fatalities.

Nationwide, there was a decline of 5.1 percent in the number of people who died from an overdose. In 2023 there were 103,793 fatalities, down from 109,413 in 2022.

It was the second consecutive year that the number of fatalities went down. In 2021 there were 627 deaths from drug overdoses. The number of fatalities went up sharply during the pandemic. The goal of public health officials and policy makers is to first bring the totals down to pre-pandemic levels, and ultimately to eliminate drug overdoses as a cause of death.

The director of the Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership attributed the drop in fatalities to a couple of factors. One is an increase in the availability of Naloxone, an antidote.

The other factor is a lessening of the stigma attached to addiction, he said. For example, the Partnership relies on people who have overcome addiction to help with at-risk individuals, because former addicts have credibility.

The Partnership is a united venture of the Arkansas Municipal League and the Arkansas Association of Counties that was formed after all 75 Arkansas counties and almost every city and town in the state sued pharmaceutical manufacturers in 2018 for their role in creating the opioid epidemic. There were several settlements that will result in Arkansas getting more than $200 million over 18 years to combat opioid addiction.

The dispensing rate for opioids is very high in Arkansas. In Arkansas in 2022, for every 100 people in the state more than 80 prescriptions were filled. That is an improvement over 2018, when more than 93 prescriptions for painkillers were prescribed for every 100 Arkansas residents.

The dispensing rate was even higher in some counties. In 2018, in Garland County 126 prescriptions were dispensed for every 100 residents.

In 2021 the legislature passed Act 651to mandate the prescription of Naloxone for people with a documented history of opioid use.

About $2.6 million of the settlement has already been used to purchase Naloxone and distribute it to organizations, first responders and health professionals. About 80,000 people were trained in how to use it. Also, $23 million has been granted to organizations for treatment and prevention programs.

Act 586 of 2023 expands access to Naloxone by allowing health care professionals to prescribe and dispense the antidote not only to people at risk of overdosing on opioids, but also to their family members. It also allows prescriptions to be dispensed to employees of law enforcement, schools, hospitals and clinics, homeless shelters, local governments and building managers.

Act 811 of 2023 mandates that kits with the antidote be available at all public schools and state-supported colleges and universities in Arkansas. Orientation classes for freshmen shall include training in the use of Naloxone and telling students where kits are located on campus.

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