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OPINION | MICHAEL WILSON AND CHANDRA PENTHALA: A health crisis

Research fighting substance abuse by MICHAEL WILSON AND CHANDRA PENTHALA SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | September 24, 2021 at 3:03 a.m.

While the covid-19 pandemic and the Delta variant continue to affect Arkansas, a more silent health crisis is brewing in our communities.

During 2020, Arkansas communities experienced a 40 percent increase in overdose-related deaths, which has led several state officials and experts to sound the alarm by voicing their concerns on media and news outlets.

In a recent op-ed in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, U.S. Rep. French Hill and Arkansas Drug Director Kirk Lane presciently addressed the growing opioid epidemic, one that is partly caused by covid-19 and partly by the influx of fentanyl into Arkansas.

Specifically, Mr. Lane has stated that "social isolation and pre-existing mental health conditions are a perfect storm."

We applaud these words and note that social-distancing protocols and the fear of contracting covid-19 often prevent Arkansans from seeking medical care. The former CEO of Natural State Recovery Center, Chris Dickie, has also stated that pandemic disruptions to support groups have made most resources inaccessible for individuals struggling with substance use disorders, or SUDs. These factors have contributed to the increased usage of illicit substances, which consequently increased SUDs.

As clinical researchers studying the pathophysiology of substance use disorders at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, we want to highlight the amazing work that UAMS is doing to understand the drug epidemic in Arkansas, why UAMS is doing this research, and how one may participate.

Currently, the UAMS Psychiatric Research Institute is leading several clinical research studies designed to improve the care of patients with SUDs. The Center for Addiction Research, a division of the Psychiatric Research Institute, is at the forefront in conducting innovative research designed to improve the prevention and treatment of SUDs.

Affiliated with the Center for Addiction Research, the Department of Emergency Medicine Behavioral Emergencies Research (DEMBER) lab is pursuing a pilot clinical research study called "Stress in Meth" (www.facebook.com/stressinmethstudy).

In this study, we are researching the stress response of methamphetamine users in a simulated emergency department setting. Through our research, we are trying to understand how methamphetamine affects the human stress response system and how it induces substance-seeking dependence behaviors.

With our findings, we hope to improve the development of treatments and therapies that break the cycle of dependence in patients with substance use disorders.

In addition to conducting research, we are actively promoting our study to recruit participants while spreading awareness about the drug epidemic in our communities.

For the past six months, we have been posting flyers around the city of Little Rock and engaging in social media platforms, including Facebook, where we maintain a public group named "Stress in Meth Study." Dr. Wilson, the primary investigator of this study, has also been interviewed on local news channels to bring particular attention to Arkansas' methamphetamine crisis and to talk about the opportunity to participate in our research study.

With this article, we wish to encourage readers to spread awareness about our study and for those who are interested in participating to contact the DEMBER lab. Contact information and volunteer compensation can be found on our Facebook page.

Despite the challenges that we endure in the fight against the drug epidemic, we are optimistic that with the collaboration of Arkansas communities in promoting clinical research on SUDs and SUD treatment programs, in the words of Mr. Hill and Mr. Lane, "we will save Arkansan and American lives from this deadly drug crisis in the future."


Dr. Michael Wilson, M.D., Ph.D., is the director of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' Department of Emergency Medicine Behavioral Emergencies Research (DEMBER) lab. Chandra Penthala is a first-year student in UAMS' College of Medicine.

Print Headline: A health crisis

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