Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge is calling on parents and grandparents statewide to help in the battle against opioid abuse. Rutledge said properly managing legal prescriptions can go a long way toward limiting access to these drugs.
“Most young people are obtaining prescription drugs from family members or from friends or others who have obtained it from family members,” she said. “It’s critical that parents and grandparents realize that they have become the drug dealers for the young people in their lives and they must clean out those medicine cabinets.”
“[Adults] must be the ones to take that initiative, not have medication sitting on the kitchen counters, not have medications available for young people to have access to and to take for friends and others.”
To this end, Rutledge’s office has sponsored statewide drug take-back initiatives – two per year that have thus far collected nearly 30,000 pounds of pills – to help spread awareness and give citizens a place to safely dispose of their outdated or leftover prescriptions.
The attorney general’s office also sponsors a statewide online education program, Prescription for Life, as one means to educate young people on making healthy choices and the dangers of opioids.
“This is a curriculum we’ve launched that we hope goes into every single high school – public, private, home schools – in the state, for grades 9 to 12,” she said. “This is a first in the nation program that we launched last fall… in over two dozen schools so far and trained a thousand students.
“We would love to have every single student have access to it and to start teaching them about these dangers as early as possible.”
Like many states, Arkansas is reeling from the influx of prescription opioids, which have quickly grown into the No. 1 drug issue in the country. Nationally, more than 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016 and 11.5 million misused prescription opioids, including more than 2 million new users, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Arkansas is at the very top of this sobering roster, said Rutledge, ranking first in misuse of pain killers by people ages 12 to 17. In 66 of Arkansas’ 75 counties, prescribing rates exceed the national average and overall, enough opioids are dispensed annually to supply every man, woman and child in the state with 80 pills.
“Arkansas has reached an epidemic point in this problem,” she said. “We are disproportionately impacted by the opioid epidemic. This epidemic does not care if you are black, white, Hispanic, rich, poor, educated, uneducated, what neighborhood you live in. It is reaching every single community and we are seeing that in particularly our young people.”
Rutledge said her office regularly meets with law enforcement and hosts summits and town hall meetings statewide to get a perspective of the hurdles county drug enforcement and rehabilitation services face. She pledged to spare no effort to get a handle on the problem.
“It’s a multi-faceted problem with multi-faceted solution and we are looking at every option for Arkansas,” she said. “It’s all hands on deck, not just our medical providers and law enforcement, we need everyday Arkansans engaged… to work with us on how we can attack and solve this issue and save Arkansans’ lives.
“That is what we want to do. We do not want to lose one more life to drug addiction.”