Arkansas Works to Reduce Prescription Drug Abuse

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

Prescription drug abuse rates have been tracking downward nationally in the past couple of years as drug take-back events have been expanding.

Take-back events are regularly held around Arkansas and the state Health Department has purchased 60 secure drop boxes that can provide residents with a way to dispose of unneeded prescription drugs at their convenience, Flener said.

"Those of us who are in this ... don't want to get complacent in our successes that we have. While we think, well everybody knows about this, they don't, they don't. So we have much education ahead," Flener said.

One element of drug education seems almost too simple - convincing people, especially the young, that prescription drug abuse can have dire consequences, she said.

"People think that because these pills come from a pharmacist and are prescribed by your doctor they're not harmful. When they are taken in the wrong manner and not according to directions, they are as much or even more harmful than other illicit drugs," Flener said.

Data from the Arkansas Crime Information Center shows that in 2008 there were 12,838 drug possession arrests.

The Legislature in 2011 approved a sentencing overhaul package that focuses on treatment and rehabilitation for nonviolent offenders. The program is intended to save the state billions of dollars in coming years by eliminating the cost of incarceration and getting drug offenders back supporting their families.

An analysis by the CDC shows that 38,329 people in the U.S. were killed by drug overdoses in 2010, up from 37,004 the year before. In 1999, the number of deaths was 16,849. Opiates accounted for 16,651 of those deaths in 2010 and 15,597 in 2009. The agency has classified prescription drug abuse as an epidemic, a point Kerlikowske made clear in his Arkansas talk.

Flener and Kerlikowske said the complexity of the issue requires involvement from law enforcement, teachers, doctors, medical and pharmacy schools and families.

"I think sentencing reform, just like prescription drugs or any type of substance abuse issue, cuts across a lot of different boundaries and you cannot stay just looking at one issue," Flener said. "It involves so many different aspects of our life and our quality of life and this is definitely one of them."

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