Arkansas drug overdose deaths down 13% in 2023, preliminary data shows

BY:  – MAY 15, 2024 5:25 PM | Link to Original Article by Arkansas Advocate

National drug overdose deaths declined in 2023 for the first time in five years, and Arkansas was in line with the trend, according to preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Arkansas reported 510 drug overdose deaths in 2023 compared to 591 in 2022, according to the provisional data. That’s a 13.7% decline, which is several times higher than the national drop of 3%. Two more fatalities are expected to be added to Arkansas’ 2023 preliminary total, which would shift the change slightly to 13.3%.

“I’m excited, but I’m not surprised,” said Kirk Lane, director of the Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership. “I had hoped it’d been more than that.”

Nationally, deaths from stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine rose, though data in Arkansas didn’t follow suit.

The decrease in drug overdose deaths can be largely attributed to two things: an emphasis on Naloxone, a lifesaving medicine that treats narcotic overdose, and stigma reduction, Lane said.

The Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership was founded with funds the state received from a $300 million opioid settlement fund. The organization focuses on helping residents at the city and county level using several programs, including educational services led by people who have overcome addiction.

“They want to talk to somebody that’s been there, that’s walked through the fire,” Lane said. “They’re immediately going to listen to them over somebody from a [police] background or even a clinical background.”

The partnership has spent approximately $2.6 million to get Naloxone directly in the hands of Arkansans through community outreach, Lane said. Last year, about 80,000 people received the medicine and were taught how to use it.

Along with the work the Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership is doing, the state is also facilitating its share of the settlement funds through programming with emergency personnel.

“Fentanyl and synthetic opioids are still [a] cause for a very dangerous environment and not a time to slow efforts,” Tom Fisher, state drug director, said via text message Wednesday.

The 2023 decline marks the second consecutive year that Arkansas has seen a drop in overdose deaths. Since 2021, the deaths have fallen nearly 19%, according to the data.

Though the state’s drug overdose deaths are on a downward trend, it has not yet reached a level comparable to its pre-pandemic data. Drug overdose deaths were particularly low in 2019 at 362, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

“Our goal is zero [drug overdose deaths],” Lane said. “We want to have 100% reduction so nobody loses a child, nobody loses a loved one.”


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