Arkansas Works to Reduce Prescription Drug Abuse

by Chuck Bartels, The Associated Press  on Monday, Jul. 22, 2013 7:15 am  

LITTLE ROCK - Prescription drug overdoses account for about one death per day in Arkansas and state officials are working with educators, health providers and law enforcement to bring down abuse rates.

Alcohol remains the most commonly abused drug, but reducing prescription drug abuse is gaining greater significance in the effort.

Arkansas Drug Director Fran Flener said that the state's prescription drug take-back program has removed more than 32 tons of medicines from homes, taking those drugs out of circulation. The nation's drug czar, National Drug Control Policy Director R. Gil Kerlikowske, said at an Arkansas conference during the week that most young people who illicitly take a prescription drug get it from a home medicine cabinet.

Flener said state policies fit well with the federal effort to stop addressing addiction as a moral failure and treat it as a brain disease.

"We're right in line with national policies in terms of our plans for implementation of a strategic plan. In fact, when this plan came out several years ago, we had already started developing along those same lines," Flener said.

In some ways the drug fight is a moving target. States, including Arkansas, have had to move swiftly to ban "bath salts" and other synthetic drugs that continue to emerge, and heroin use among young people is on the rise nationally.

But prescription drugs in 2010 killed nearly 400 people in Arkansas, 13.1deaths for every 100,000 residents, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to Kerlikowske's office, more than $86 million in federal money filters to Arkansas for myriad anti-drug programs, from outreach for school-age children to help funding drug courts.

Flener said the resources are available to address a multi-faceted problem but it takes plenty of work.

"We're going to have to be creative. Money is not the answer to everything," she said. "We've got to think. We've got to be smarter than we've been in the past."

One example she gave is work by family physicians who are taking steps to steer patients from the risk of addiction. She also noted that Arkansas Children's Hospital is making available an app for educators in all state public and charter schools that will help as a teaching tool.

"It is an evidence-based program on substance abuse and a lot of other health issues that is going to be free and available to every teacher in this state," Flener said.



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