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Opioids treatment is focus of grant

by John Moritz | September 2, 2020 at 3:56 a.m.
OxyContin pills are arranged at a pharmacy in Montpelier, Vt., in this Feb. 19, 2013, file photo. (Associated Press)

The Arkansas Department of Human Services announced this week that a $21 million grant to expand substance abuse treatment programs will be targeted toward recruiting new treatment providers and reducing opioid deaths.

The grant, which will be spread across the next two years, was awarded to the state from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, a branch of the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

Among the 10 project areas that will be funded by the grant are the recruitment of treatment providers, rural recovery needs, reducing overdose deaths, "modernizing" a DHS data-collection system, expanding peer recovery programs and outreach aimed at college students and older Arkansas, according to a news release.

The release did not identify individual projects that will be funded by the grant, and a spokesperson for the agency did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

The grant was first announced by Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Monday, which was International Overdose Awareness Day. The governor's office pointed to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data showing a 16.6% drop in overdose deaths over a one-year period ending in January 2020.

"Arkansas has seen the second largest reduction in fatal drug overdoses over the past year and is one of four states to see a double-digit decrease," the governor said in a statement. "This confirms that our programs are working. This grant will enhance our efforts to educate and save lives."

According to the department release, the agency's Division of Adult, Aging and Behavioral Health Services will work with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and the state's Division of Community Correction on grant-funded projects.

"With this additional funding, we can build upon the work we've already done to address opioid addiction and ensure that services are available all across the state, especially in rural areas that may have limited access today," Arkansas Drug Director Kirk Lane said in a statement. "Opioid use disorder affects people from all walks of life, and it's going to take a strategic and coordinated effort to address the problem."

Community Corrections, which oversees probation and parole services in Arkansas, will use the grant money to aid medically assisted treatment programs at its residential centers along with family counseling, transportation and peer support services and medication costs for offenders whose insurance has lapsed, according to Cindy Murphy, a spokeswoman for the agency.

Spokespeople at UAMS and UALR were unable to provide specifics about which of the school's programs would be funded by the grant.

The rate of deaths from drug overdoses in Arkansas was lower than 32 other states in 2018, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However in the past, the state has had one of the highest rates of opioid prescriptions per capita.

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