Here in central Arkansas and across the country, the opioid epidemic is one of the most urgent crises we face. In the past decade we have seen an alarming rise of overdose deaths from legal and illegal opioids, including painkillers, heroin, and fentanyl, the last being a more potent opioid that is more often fatal and increasingly being mixed with other drugs.

The number of Arkansans who have lost their lives to drug overdose has risen by 40 percent in the last 14 years. Arkansas is second in the nation for the number of opioid prescriptions written. Pharmacies in our state dispensed nearly 236 million doses of opioids in 2016--or 78 doses for every man, woman and child in Arkansas.

We are facing a critical challenge in Arkansas, but this is a nationwide problem. In 2017, more than 70,000 people in America died from a drug overdose, and public health data in a recent New York Times article indicates that we could lose over half a million more due to opioid overdose within the next decade if this crisis continues.

With an epidemic of this scale, we must acknowledge that this crisis affects each and every one of us, whether we know it or not. These are our moms and dads, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and co-workers. Chances are we all know someone who is suffering from a substance use disorder, and we all have a role to play in fighting this epidemic and creating a community of support.

This is why we--a diverse group of faith leaders from across Little Rock--have come together to address this crisis in our community. We are participating in an interfaith process convened by the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton Presidential Center, Arkansas Department of Health and Interfaith Arkansas. We are coming together across denominations and traditions to recognize that we can do together what none of us can do alone in defeating the opioid epidemic. We must act as a community and a nation.

There are ways that you can be involved and help fight this epidemic:

• Rethink how you talk about addiction. Stigma is one of the greatest barriers to effectively fighting this epidemic; people will not seek treatment and are more likely to hide a problem because of stigma. We know that addiction has physical, mental and spiritual components and, as such, must be treated with the same care, compassion and skill as any other chronic illness.

• Educate yourself about the resources in your community. There is a full range of support resources in our local community from actions you can take to prevent addiction, ways to approach treatment, pathways to recovery, and harm reduction services. Your local doctor's office, hospital, and many community organizations will have lists of these resources. We as faith leaders are committing to provide these resources to our congregations and building support networks for those dealing with substance use disorders.

• Dispose of your prescription drugs safely. We will be participating in the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) National Prescription Drug Take Back event on Saturday, April 27. A majority of those who misuse prescription pain relievers report that they received the drugs from a friend or relative, often from the home medicine cabinet. On that date, across the country and here in Arkansas, sites designated by the DEA--places of worship, community centers, and more--will open their spaces for residents to safely dispose of unused or unneeded medications from the home and reduce risk of misuse and unintentional poisoning.

If you have unused or expired medication, bring them to a designated location near you and be a part of this life-saving event and help spread the word.

We have a responsibility to act, as neighbors and community members, to create change. This is just the beginning. We recognize that the community's work must be sustained and include everyone, from the medical and helping professions, law enforcement and first responders, the legal and criminal court perspectives, and people in long-term recovery who can share their hope, strength and experience with all of us.

As faith leaders, we affirm that everyone teaches, and everyone learns.

Little Rock faith leaders addressing this crisis are Fr. Fred Ball, San Damiano Ecumenical Catholic Church; Rabbi Barry Block, Congregation B'nai Israel; Rev. Gail Brooks, Canvas Community Church; Rev. Jay Clark, Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church; Rev. LaNita Daniels, North Pulaski United Methodist Church; Dr. Charlie McAdoo, St. Andrews Methodist Church; Mrs. Jennifer Reimer, Local Spirituality Assembly of the Bahá'ís of North Little Rock, Arkansas; Rev. Dr. Joanna Seibert, St. Mark's Episcopal Church; Rev. Betsy Singleton Snyder, Pulaski Heights United Methodist Church; Mr. Mehmet Ulupinar, Arkansas Culture and Dialog Center; Rev. Lindy Vogado, Second Presbyterian Church; and Rev. Ray Williams, City Church Network.

Editorial on 04/21/2019