LITTLE ROCK – Every day in Arkansas, first responders save the lives of 11 people from an overdose of painkillers.
Thanks to legislation enacted earlier this year, even more people can be revived from potentially fatal overdoses of opioids. Act 651 of 2021 mandates that when a physician prescribes opioids, the physician must also prescribe naloxone, a drug that can quickly reverse the effects of an overdose.
Under Act 651, physicians must provide counseling on how to safely and effectively use the opioid and the naloxone.
So far this year, more than 1,000 people in Arkansas have been saved by first responders using naloxone. It is commonly called by its brand name, Narcan.
The legislature has enacted several laws to save people from the epidemic of opioid overdoses. Act 284 of 2017 authorizes pharmacists to dispense naloxone to friends and family of someone who is at risk of dying from an overdose.
In 2015 the legislature passed Act 1114 to provide immunity from arrest for friends of a person who is about to die from an overdose, if they take him to a hospital or contact law enforcement to seek medical assistance.
Also in 2015 the legislature approved Act 1222 to grant civil immunity to emergency medical technicians and first responders who in good faith administer naloxone to someone at risk of an opioid overdose.
The legislature also created the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which helps prevent abuse by allowing authorities to track individuals who get inordinate amounts of additive drugs.
Opioids are prescribed for moderate to severe pain, but one of their side effects is that they are addictive. According to the Centers for Disease Control, common types of opioids are oxycodone, hydrocodone, methadone and morphine.
Heroin is an illegal opioid. Fentanyl is an even stronger opioid than heroin. It is a synthetic version that is being manufactured illegally and sold in underground drug markets.
Earlier this year the state Crime Lab reported that for the first time more people in Arkansas had died from an overdose of fentanyl than from methamphetamine. The state Drug Director said that illegal shipments of fentanyl from Mexico and China were the main cause of the increase in fentanyl overdoses.
Arkansas is second in the nation in the rate of opioid prescriptions – an average of 86.3 prescriptions for every 100 people, compared to the national average of 46.7 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people.
The state attorney general recently announced a possible settlement of a lawsuit by numerous states, cities and counties against drug companies. If approved by the government entities, the drug companies will pay a total of $26 billion nationwide to settle the thousands of lawsuits brought against them. Arkansas would receive $216 million, to be spent mainly for treatment and prevention of opioid abuse.
The drug companies have agreed to work under a system that will track purchases of opioids, to prevent suspiciously large shipments. Information about drug shipments will be shared with state regulators.
Before the lawsuits, drug companies distributed millions of pills to small, rural communities. Also, drug manufacturers did not inform physicians about how addictive opioids really are.