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story.lead_photo.caption U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., is shown in this file photo.

Boozman expresses opioid-fight doubts

WASHINGTON — During questioning of Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday, U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., raised doubts about the effectiveness of the federal government’s efforts to combat opioid trafficking.

Drug overdose deaths topped 72,000 in 2017 — nearly 200 per day. Most of those fatalities were linked to opioids, including fentanyl, a potent synthetic drug.

The number of deaths has quadrupled since 1999, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With the number of deaths soaring, the White House in 2017 labeled the opioids crisis a “public-health emergency” and shifted additional resources to combat it.

During last week’s Senate Appropriations Committee meeting, Boozman questioned whether the efforts are working.

“Sadly, we’re spending a lot of money, but I don’t know that we’re having great success,” the optometrist from Rogers said.

Barr, given the task of explaining the Justice Department’s proposed 2020 budget, suggested that the country is finally turning a corner on the problem.

“I do think we’re … starting to see some good results,” Barr said. “I think the initial data suggests that we finally stopped seeing an increase in opioid overdose deaths. It seems to be leveling out.”

That may be a reflection of better medical care, not lessening drug addiction, Boozman told Barr.

“Part of that is just the ability to have the Narcan [available],” Boozman said, referring to a nasal spray that prevents some overdose victims from dying. “My understanding is that drug dealers are carrying it to keep their clients alive. I don’t know what the statistic would be if we didn’t have that.”

To fix the problem, the government must curtail the misuse of prescription drugs, while also blocking the flow of illegal drugs from China and elsewhere, Barr said.

“We have to address, we have to stop, the flow of drugs from Mexico. Or make a much bigger dent in that,” Barr said. “That’s one of the reasons that I do think that a wall, a barrier system, across the southern border is an important part of that.”

Ranchers honored as forest ‘stewards’

In a speech on the House floor Wednesday, U.S. Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., congratulated Ray and Theresa Vogelpohl on their selection as Arkansas Forest Stewards of the Year.

The Vogelpohls own the Diamond TR Ranch, a 340-acre working ranch off Arkansas 10 roughly 30 miles northwest of downtown Little Rock.

The couple was selected for the honor by the Arkansas Agriculture Department’s Forestry Commission. Their property lies in the foothills of the Ouachita Mountains along the Maumelle River, near the Perry-Pulaski county line.

The ranch includes two barns with stalls for 43 horses, plus a covered arena that is “one of the largest private facilities for shows and clinics in Central Arkansas,” its website states.

The Vogelpohls also raise “natural, grass-fed livestock” on their property, it notes.

Hill, a lawmaker from Little Rock, portrayed the Diamond TR Ranch as a model for forest management and the Vogelpohls as faithful stewards of the land.

“Their forest management efforts include prescribed burns, tree plantings along the Maumelle River, forest thinning and planting of native grasses,” Hill said. “Ray and Theresa’s dedication to forestry and environmental conservation has safeguarded Arkansas forestland for generations to come.”

Brooks Willhoite, a forester for Pulaski and Perry counties, says visitors are impressed by what they see.

“Visiting Diamond TR Ranch for the first time was breathtaking,” he said in a news release. “I have not visited a tract that has the multitude of different natural resource projects taking place on their property.”

Arkansan serves on opportunity council

Delta Regional Authority federal co-chairman Chris Caldwell of Little Rock is serving on the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council.

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Dec. 12 creating the body.

It will “carry out the administration’s plan to target, streamline and coordinate federal resources to Opportunity Zones,” the White House said.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 created Opportunity Zone tax incentives designed to encourage private investment in low-income areas across the country.

The new council includes the heads of regional economic development agencies, plus at least six Cabinet members as well as numerous White House officials.

The new council had its first meeting earlier this month at the White House. Trump and Caldwell both participated.

The Delta Regional Authority, which was created by Congress in 2000 with the support of President Bill Clinton, covers parts of seven states along the Mississippi River plus Alabama, and encompasses 252 counties and parishes, many of them with high rates of poverty.

Caldwell has led the authority since January of 2018.

“I’m really loving the job,” he said Thursday.

While the nation is enjoying some of its lowest unemployment since the 1960s, the economy is stronger in some areas than in others.

The Opportunity Zones can help change that, Caldwell said.

“[There] is great potential for all of rural America and a lot of areas that haven’t seen new economic development and fresh investment come in,” he said.

Opportunity Zones have the potential to boost “areas all across the Delta, especially here in Arkansas,” Caldwell added.

Planning to visit the nation’s capital? Know something happening in Washington, D.C.? Please contact Frank Lockwood at (202) 662-7690 or flockwood@ . Want the latest from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s Washington bureau? It’s available on Twitter, @LockwoodFrank.

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