WASHINGTON, D.C. (KNWA/KFTA) – Missouri and Arkansas have seen an increase in opioid-related deaths during the pandemic.
The pain pill manufacturing settlement will allow funds to go into recovery efforts. Of the $26 billion settlement, Missouri will receive up to $500 million and Arkansas will receive up to $216 million.
Kirk Lane, State Drug Director of Arkansas, oversees drug relations and trafficking throughout the state. Lane said during the pandemic the numbers of uses and deaths were climbing at an alarming rate.
“Previous to the pandemic, we were one of five states to drop our overdose deaths across the board,” said Lane. “Unfortunately in 2020, we saw a 55% increase in our overdose deaths.”
Lane said isolation, reduction in treatment facilities and anxiety were the impacts of COVID that brought up the death rate. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Arkansas is the second-highest opioid prescribing state in the nation.
The Drug Prescription Monitoring Program was implemented in Missouri and Arkansas to bring down prescription numbers. Other efforts like requiring prescribers to prescribe Naloxone (Narcan) to a patient that received opioids at a certain level or when the prescriber recognizes substance abuse in the patient.
“Even though the patient may not fill the prescription, it engages that prescriber in that conversation about dangers of the opioid they are prescribed and it gives them good information which is to me, half the battle,” said Lane.
David Stoeckner, Director of Better Life in Recovery and former addict, said his introduction to opioids started when he survived a car accident and was prescribed medication to deal with pain during his recovery. Once taken off the medication, Stoeckner said he experienced withdrawal that increased his dependence on opioids.
“I used for 24 years, I think the longest I stayed sober outside a recovery center is about a week,” said Stoeckner.
Better Life in Recovery, located in Springfield, MO, is an outreach program that reaches out to those struggling with addiction. Stoeckner said the program operates out of the community center where they follow up with those going through the recovery process, organize events to keep people involved and create a safe space for those who do want to get help.
According to Lane, Arkansas receives between $25 million to $35 million in funds a year through grants and federal funding. The settlement amount from the opioid manufacturers is set to be distributed to states so the uses and deaths can decrease.
“My opinion would probably be it will not be enough, knowing the volume of what needs to be done across the board,” said Lane. “25 million dollars sounds like a lot of money to you and I…. When you start spreading it across to three million people, it probably won’t be enough.”
Lane said he believes it would be substantial in helping with the problems surrounding opioid recovery and resources but will not solve the problem.
“If you get really focus on the dollars, then everything becomes about the dollars and not what you’re really trying to accomplish and that’s what we’ve seen over the last four or five years,” said Lane.
Stoeckner said he would like to see some of the settlement money go towards treatment, providing sterile syringes, and creating better support groups for families.
“Hopefully a good portion of that money will be focused on recovery support and harm reduction intentionally,” said Stoeckner.
Arkansas Senator John Boozman has passed a few bills targeting the opioid crisis. In 2016, the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act was signed into law under the Obama Administration that allowed recovery efforts, support, and education on opioids to become accessible.
“When people do get in that situation we need to be able to offer the help that they need to help them get off the drugs,” said Boozman.
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