ARKANSAS (KNWA/KFTA) — Efforts continue in Arkansas to end the opioid epidemic and provide resources for those struggling with recovery. Two bills have been filed for this legislative session that target fentanyl.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid. It’s used in medical settings but is commonly known for being used in the illegal drug market.
Brittany Kelly, the director of Northwest Arkansas Harm Reduction, said during her time working with addicts in harm reduction, she’s seen the harsh impacts of fentanyl. She said the life-saving drug, Naloxone, is having to be used in multiple doses to revive someone who has overdosed on fentanyl.
One of the bills, SB40, would decriminalize single-use fentanyl test strips. As of now, they’re classified as drug paraphernalia.
While Kelly has been working with recovering addicts, she’s been actively distributing fentanyl test strips.
“A lot of our local law enforcement will not charge for it because they know that we’re doing the good behind it,” said Kelly.
Dr. Joe Thompson, the CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, said there was a 41% increase in overdose deaths from 2019 to 2020. He believes the percentage has gone up even more during the pandemic.
He said while it’s important to be able to test for fentanyl, he wants to make sure the focus is on treatment.
“We’ve got to actually focus on the treatment and recovery from substance use disorder so that we actually deal with the root problem, not just find a way to help people manage the problem going forward,” said Thompson.
Another bill, HB1043, would create harsher punishments for those convicted of delivering or trafficking fentanyl. They would face a minimum of 30 years in prison. If the drugs lead to the death of a person, it would mean life without eligibility for parole after serving 30 years.
Kelly thinks this bill is a step in the right direction.
“30 years. That gives us a lot more time to get these dealers off the street and be able to get people in active addiction the help that they need,” said Kelly.
On a national scale, the FDA is considering approval of the life-saving drug, Naloxone, for over-the-counter use. Thompson said the medication is a nasal spray that is safe, with no addiction potential. He said making the drug OTC would make it more widely available for everyone.
Right now, Naloxone is available without a doctor’s prescription in Arkansas. According to Julie Stewart, a pharmacist at Medical Arts Pharmacy in Fayetteville, Naloxone is available with a standing order without a prescription. People can pay with cash or see if their insurance will cover part of it.
According to Stewart, the price tag to self-pay is around $150.
The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement is working with hospitals across the state to ensure if somebody shows up to the emergency room after an overdose, they will be given Naloxone to take home.
“They or their family can go home with Naloxone as a dispense medication from the ER so that they have that available to them should their loved one become in trouble again,” said Thompson.