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New Grant Program Aims to Reduce Prescription Drug Overdose Deaths

Drug overdose deaths and opioid-involved deaths continue to increase in the United States. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from 2000 to 2015, more than half a million people died from drug overdoses. Deaths from prescription opioids—drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone—have more than quadrupled since 1999. Arkansas is ranked second in the nation for the number of opioid prescriptions written with an average of 114.6 prescriptions for every 100 in the population.

The Arkansas Department of Human Services, Department of Aging, Adult, and Behavioral Health Services (DAABHS) was awarded a Prescription Drug/Opioid Overdose-Related Deaths (PDO) prevention grant and a State Targeted Response to Opioids (STR) grant by the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in September 2016 to assist in reducing the number of overdose deaths related to prescription drug and other opioid drugs in Arkansas by the proper pre-hospital administration of intranasal naloxone. Naloxone is a medication that can be used to block the effects of opioids, especially in overdose, and has been effectively used by first responders to prevent deaths due to overdose.

As a sub-grantee for the PDO grant program, the Criminal Justice Institute (CJI) will provide a two-hour training to first responders, substance abuse treatment providers (to train families and friends of persons with opioid use disorders), and other key stakeholders across the state in the administration of naloxone. This five-year grant provides services to the following high need counties: Crawford, Franklin, Sebastian, Scott, and Sharp. The grant centers on preventing overdose deaths from opioids in individuals over the age of 18 and reducing adverse effects associated with opioid addiction.

Through this grant, CJI is also designing media and public education campaigns to increase health literacy and knowledge about the use of naloxone in overdose interventions to address prescription drug/opiate misuse disorders. The campaigns will be designed to focus on the importance of calling 911 in the event of an overdose and the Joshua Ashley-Pauley Act “Good Samaritan” law. The Act provides immunity from arrest, charge and prosecution for people who seek medical assistance for drug overdose victims will alleviate fear associated with making a potentially lifesaving call.

CJI will work with existing or develop local advisory councils and coalitions in high-need communities to assure cultural competency and community buy-in. These councils will create ways to distribute health literacy information about better communications with medical personnel and help promote the media campaign and support of the first responders.

To date, CJI staff has met with coalitions and key stakeholders in all of the counties involved in the PDO grant and the STR grant. Kick-off events are being scheduled in the eight counties covered by these two grants. The community members have started the buzz about the project by use of their social media pages, conversations with additional stakeholders, plans for how to promote health literacy, proper use of opioids, and best placement for media information about the Good Samaritan law.

The initial naloxone training sessions for first responders was conducted on October 27 at the Van Buren Police Department with 52 officers from Crawford County trained during three class sessions. Officers from the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office, Van Buren Police Department, Alma Police Department, Mountainburg Police Department, and Van Buren Fire Department completed the training and will be among the first to receive naloxone kits funded through the Prescription Drug/Opioid Overdose Prevention (PDO) grant.

Naloxone trainings are being scheduled in Crawford and Sharp counties during December. Additional trainings will be conducted in the early part of 2018.

For more information on this program, contact Yvonne Burk at 501-570-8051.