In Arkansas, overdose deaths have increased every year since 2018, according to the Arkansas Take Back Opioid Dashboard.
National medical group Ideal Option is hoping to address the increase, the opioid epidemic and substance abuse issues through several new clinics.
"The need has really always been there," Lt. Cody Burk, a spokesperson with the Pulaski County sheriff's office, said.
Services offered through Ideal Option's 10 Arkansas clinics aim to give those in need a "reboot" to life.
"While opioid prescribing and heroin use is on the decrease, overdose deaths continue to increase in Arkansas, largely due to the prevalence of fentanyl in the illicit drug supply," a press release from the group said.
Aaron Bunch, community outreach coordinator for Ideal, shared how the clinics are using resources and medicated treatments to help people get back on their feet.
"It's nice because we're not the police," Bunch said. "Sometimes people will kind of unearth themselves and tell us all these things. Then we can just look at our community-based organizations and partnerships to help try and fix the other things. We're going to focus on their addiction and what their drug of choice is, we're going to set them up on a treatment plan that will address that and then we start looking at some other things, too."
Bunch said a large network through the clinics works to also tackle issues patients might be facing outside of their addiction.
"We have partnered with the Legal Aid of Arkansas and they have a grant called Beyond Opioids," Bunch said. "This grant is specifically designed for people struggling with substance abuse, child custody issues, visitation issues, addiction, bankruptcy, divorce and all that stuff. We try to help them with that and we also work with the housing authority to try and help find them a place to live."
One Arkansas woman, who asked not to be identified, shared her story and how the efforts and environment at Ideal changed her life for the better.
"The day that I walked in there, I was a mess," she said. "I had given drugs every part of my life. I walked in there and I asked if there was any help. They said, 'Yes, there is. And we're going to get you some.'"
Using medication that reduces cravings, and restores normal brain functions, memory, concentration and more, she was able to take her life back.
"Me taking this medicine has made it to where I can actually function and I can actually do things," she said. "They started me out on a dosage and I would come back every couple of days to just make sure that things were good. As time went on, it went from a few days to a couple of weeks, and now I'm on a monthly basis."
The medication helped her function as the clinic assisted her in rebooting her life, she said.
"Since then, I got a great job," she said. "I just turned my complete and total life around. I did do a 12-step program, I sponsor women, I got all my kids back -- because they had nothing to do with me. I'm a part of my granddaughter's life, too. [The clinic] just completely changed my life. Everything I thought was never gonna happen, has happened."
Other comments she shared shed light on her one-on-one experience with one staff member working with the clinic.
"She actually cared about me," she said. "She didn't care about what was going on around her. She was focused on what would help me. Each person is different, but with each person that goes in there... that's what they do."
According to Bunch, a unique aspect of the clinics is their flexible approach to patients with or without insurance.
"We treat opioids, substance abuse and alcohol abuse," Bunch said. "A big important part of what we do is accepting Medicaid. We also have a grant from the state that allows us to treat patients that have no insurance."
"No insurance? No excuse."
Josh Newell, who was raised in Bryant, talked about his experience being in long-term recovery and working with patients now as a peer outreach specialist for Ideal Option.
He also shared insight into the medical treatment patients receive and which medications the clinics offer.
"It depends on the patient," Newell said. "It's a case-by-case situation as far as the medication used, but I can tell you that two of the main ones used are buprenorphine with naloxone and naltrexone. We do not use methadone because it is a full agonist that fully binds to opioid receptors."
Information Newell provided further explains that buprenorphine, unlike methadone, is a partial agonist -- which reduces cravings and is a safer alternative.
"One thing to know is that we are very strict on watching levels of medication in urine analysis, which is done twice a week throughout the initiation stage," Newell said.
Newell's role, however, joins the many judges, doctors, executive directors and others who assist these patients in their treatment.
"I come into the picture working with them as a resource broker, as a supporter, as an advocate, a bridge-builder, a mentor...whatever it is they need," Newell said.
Newell added that having the recovery experience has made his outreach efforts "invaluable."
"When you speak with people that are in addiction and they talk to clinicians, sometimes it's hard for them to put their trust in someone. When they speak with someone that has that lived experience, it can be just enough for them to take that first step and it can be the difference between saving a life or not or getting on the path to recovery or not."
Newell then shared a story about an interaction he had just earlier that day.
"This morning, we had a patient and it was their first time going to the clinic," he said. "She didn't want to go by herself and she was nervous, so I showed up there with her. I met her at her appointment and just talked with her and helped her feel comfortable. I was there with her through the whole visit.
"As soon as they realize, hey, this guy has been through it too and he's been through the same stuff I've been through," Newell said, they open up to that.
"It brings a level of comfort that really helps people in their recovery."
Bunch chimed in, reiterating how crucial the peer outreach specialists are and what they bring to the efforts of each clinic in Arkansas and across the nation.
"It's paramount...having somebody like Josh," Bunch said. "It shows that we're breaking down the stigma. You are a real human, you do have real self-worth, and there is hope for you to have a better life. A lot of times with addiction that's just a symptom of other things that are going on in their life. You lose your job or you get divorces, things happen."
Bunch said each peer specialist is hired to work over several clinics, adding that Newell works alongside the clinics in Jacksonville, Conway, Hot Springs and Little Rock.
The latest Arkansas clinic launched by the group is located in El Dorado at 625 E. Main Street and is open Monday to Thursday, 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Information drawn from the Arkansas Take Back Opioid Dashboard by officials with Ideal also highlighted that overdose deaths in Union County increased by 50% from 2020 to 2021.
Narcotic arrests in the county increased by 39% from 2020 to 2021, according to the dashboard.
According to Newell, Ideal has referral partnerships with jails and probation/parole officers in other states, but is still working to implement those partnerships here in Arkansas.
Efforts to receive comments from Burk on the future of referral and treatment options between the clinics and the sheriff's office were unsuccessful.
Existing clinics throughout the state are located in El Dorado, Bentonville, Conway, Fort Smith, Hot Springs, Jacksonville, Jonesboro, Little Rock, Russellville and Springdale.