Known as the Natural State, Arkansas is home to over 3 million people in the southern United States. And, like most states throughout the U.S., illicit drug use is rampant throughout Little Rock, Fort Smith, Fayetteville and beyond.
This is particularly true for opioid use. Like many of its neighbors such as Oklahoma, Mississippi and Texas, overdose deaths from heroin as well as prescription opioids are on the rise. However, due to its economy and location, Arkansas faces its own unique challenges in the war against drugs. The states also uses its own weapons to fight back.
The Biggest Threats to Arkansas
A largely rural state, Arkansas is home to several larger cities of 200,000 people or less and many small towns dotting the plains and prairies. Despite this bucolic image, drug use and abuse are prevalent throughout both metropolitan areas and smaller communities.
As with many states across the country, heroin and opiate abuse threaten the lives of adults and youths alike; Arkansas is number two in the nation for over-prescribing opiates, with an average rate of 114.6 prescriptions per 100 people, substantially higher than the national average of 66.5. Tragically, deaths are on the rise, too, mimicking the trends across the country: Opioid overdoses have increased over 600 percent since 1999.
However, heroin isn’t the biggest threat to Arkansans. Methamphetamine, Arkansas’ most popular drug, is among the leading causes of overdose. According to the Arkansas Department of Human Services, meth is the leading threat in association with both violence and property damage. While local production is at its lowest point since the 1990s, most meth is trafficked from Mexico. This underground transportation network is a driver for crime in Arkansas. Caucasians have historically played the largest role in methamphetamine use and transportation, but current trends show that other races are increasing their involvement in the local drug trade.
Experts cite the makeup of Arkansas (as per ARDHS) as “rural, agricultural and impoverished.” These are supporting factors for the high availability of drug use throughout the state and Arkansas’ position as one of the top 10 states for meth arrests.
Fighting Back Against Drugs in Arkansas
Despite the challenges with methamphetamines and heroin in Arkansas, hope isn’t lost. Law enforcement and other agencies throughout the state are working hard to combat the rise in drug use and drug overdoses, utilizing educational programs and stings to take down drug rings and spread awareness to the public.
In early 2019, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, in partnership with the National Association of Attorneys General Training and Research Institute, hosted an Overdose Death Investigation and Prosecution training session for over 300 lawyers, police officers and coroners. In addition to topics like evidence handling and overdose death investigations, attendees were also instructed on drug safety topics concerning heroin and fentanyl. Outside of her work on this vital training program, Rutledge has spearheaded other anti-drug training opportunities, including Prescription for Life, an educational program for school-aged children that has provided training regarding the dangers of prescription drug abuse for over 12,000 youths.
Drug monitoring has also yielded gains. In February 2019, Van Buren made the largest drug bust in the town’s history as well as one of the largest in the state. With the arrest of a couple from California identified after a car accident in which the two partners acted erratically, the police were able to seize over 70 pounds of meth and over 500 30mg tablets of oxycodone. Through these kinds of stings, in conjunction with monitoring through the state’s Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, Arkansas officials have been able to reduce the threat of both legal prescriptions and illegal substances alike.
Despite the challenges in Arkansas regarding the rising rate of opioid overdoses and significant methamphetamine use, the state’s officials are fighting back. From training programs to action by law enforcement, the state may soon see a more positive trend regarding drug abuse and addiction.