Arkansas officials provide update on how state is handling opioid overdoses
Last year, the Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership was created by former Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson to disperse the money the state was receiving from opioid settlements. Arkansas has received $250 million from opioid settlements.
Kirk Lane, director of the Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership, in an interview with KARK Channel 4’s Capitol View, said the state is seeing less opioid-related deaths. He said the availability of naloxone, which has been a focus of the Partnership, has helped with the dip.
“By the end of next week, we’ll probably push out about 36,000 naloxone kits just in Arkansas,” he said. “We’re seeing a big difference. That’s over 70,000 units pushed into a population of three million… We’re starting to see some changes take place. People are saving people before first responders arrive and it’s saving lives. We’re starting to see our numbers start to go down.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2021 there were 637 opioid-related deaths in Arkansas. The CDC’s website does not have data available for 2022 and 2023.
Lane said about $17.5 million has been used by the Partnership to fund these types of programs. He said the money from the settlement is also being used for beds in small communities as well as peer recovery specialists and overdose response teams.
During the 2023 Arkansas Legislative session, Rep. Tara Shepard, D-Little Rock, sponsored Act 811, which provides opioid overdose kits to all public high schools and universities. A fiscal impact study attached to Act 811 shows there is no direct cost to the state, according to Talk Business & Politics. Local funding may come from state funds. Educational institutions will spend approximately $500 per wall mount and Narcan kit. Recurring costs are approximately $75 to $125 every two years based on medication expiration dates.
U.S Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Georgia, has contacted Shepard about trying to pass a similar law at the Congressional level. During an interview with KARK Channel 4’s Capitol View, she said she has traveled to D.C to work with Carter on the issue, which she said is not a partisan issue.
“This is about saving lives. Roughly 300 Americans a day die from opioid overdose. We want to work together to show that we can in fact do something to save lives,” Shepard said.
Lane said he was supportive of Shepard’s legislation as it was moving through the legislature.
“We were totally supportive. You know, we had worked in the wings of helping her with that legislation. And, based on my previous role, providing naloxone, which is the big part of that kit – it’s an opioid antagonist that allows somebody to breathe during an opioid overdose – to school nurses throughout the state,” he said.
Last year, U.S Rep. French Hill, R-Little Rock, sponsored legislation to provide more access to naloxone. His bill passed in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives.
The Preventing Overdoses and Saving Lives Act 2.0 would allow doctors to prescribe naloxone alongside opioids to patients with pain or after surgery. Hill said his bill was based on legislation that was passed in Arkansas. In 2021, 550 lives were saved in the state due to naloxone prescriptions, Hill said.