Over $200,000 from the Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership has been approved so far for projects to fight the deadly impact of opioids in Northwest Arkansas and the River Valley.
The partnership between the Association of Arkansas Counties and the Arkansas Municipal League is distributing funds received by the state from a $216 million opioid settlement allocation announced in 2021.
Organizations across the state are applying for a portion of the money, which is intended to be used for strategic programs aimed at ending the opioid epidemic. The partnership began giving out the funds in January.
Twenty-nine applications -- a total of $4.4 million in awarded funds -- had been approved statewide as of Wednesday, said Tenesha Barnes, deputy director of the partnership. Of that, $211,935 will go to efforts based in Benton, Washington, Sebastian and Crawford counties.
Fifty-five applications have been received from across the state, requesting an estimated total of $34.3 million, according to Barnes. The partnership has denied some applications because they did not meet the intention of the funds. Additional information has been requested regarding a few other pending applications, she said.
Most of the $211,935 in opioid recovery funds approved for the region so far will pay for naloxone opioid overdose reversal kits, which can save lives, according to local behavioral health providers.
The Northwest Arkansas Crisis Stabilization Unit in Fayetteville and P.E.A.R.L. in Rogers have both received $14,250 in credit to the Arkansas Naloxone Bank. In Fort Smith, the Western Arkansas Guidance and Counseling Center -- known as the Guidance Center -- and Harbor House were awarded $47,880 and $57,000 of credit, respectively.
The Guidance Center will also use $78,555 in approved funds to hire the first peer recovery support specialist at the Sebastian County Crisis Stabilization Unit, which it staffs and operates.
Funds to the NWA Crisis Stabilization Unit will pay for about 300 naloxone kits, which the organization will distribute to people admitted to its voluntary behavioral health program, director Kristen McAllister said.
The Crisis Stabilization Unit at 105 N. Mill Ave. in Fayetteville is a 16-bed, short-term residential treatment facility for people experiencing behavioral health problems like substance abuse or mental health crises. It is a partnership between the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and Washington County.
The unit, which reopened in August, hopes to begin naloxone education and distribution soon among people in its care who are at risk of overdose, or who have at-risk loved ones, according to McAllister. The 300 kits will probably take about a year to distribute, she said.
"If someone used substances and there's concern they are overdosing, naloxone can be given to reverse the effects of the opioid," she said. Naloxone will not cause harm if administered to someone who is not experiencing an overdose, she said.
The medicine works rapidly and has to be administered by another person, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. By attaching to opioid receptors and reversing and blocking the effects of other opioids, it can restore normal breathing to a person if their breathing has slowed or stopped due to an opioid overdose.
Naloxone, administered by first responders across the country, is often distributed in the form of a nasal spray, though it is also available as an injectable. The nasal spray can be more easily administered by people without formal training, according to the institute.
Kasey Wilson, drug and alcohol counselor and director of addiction services for the Guidance Center, said about 1,000 naloxone kits will be funded by the Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership. Those kits will be distributed by the Fort Smith nonprofit behavioral health care provider free of charge to high-risk people at its facilities as well as attendees of training sessions in the Fort Smith area, he said.
The organization has given out naloxone to nearly 800 people over the last 2½ years, according to Wilson.
The addition of a peer recovery support specialist will allow the Sebastian County Crisis Stabilization Unit at 3113 S. 70th St. in Fort Smith to enhance care at its 16-bed unit, he said.
Peer recovery support specialists are those who have recovered from substance abuse and aim to support others in the recovery process. Other such specialists already help with opioid recovery at other Guidance Center locations in the area, he said.
Opioid overdose deaths have increased in Arkansas and the United States in recent years.
Nationally, an estimated 80,411 people died from an overdose involving an opioid in 2021, nearly quadruple the total of 21,089 from 2010, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Arkansas, overdose deaths rose during the covid-19 pandemic even while the number of prescribed opioids decreased, according to the Arkansas Opioid Dashboard. Overdose deaths statewide jumped from 363 in 2019 to 618 in 2021.
Perception of naloxone, even among organizations with recovery programs, has seemed to shift in recent years as overdose deaths have been more widely publicized, according to Wilson.
"Whenever we first started trying to distribute it in the community over two years ago, a lot of people didn't want to touch it," he said.
Wilson said he now hears stories of overdose deaths, or deaths prevented by naloxone, more often than when the center began distributing the opioid antagonist.
The life-saving capability of naloxone is the reason organizations like the Guidance Center are distributing it in the area, he said.
Naloxone can be bought at pharmacies in Arkansas without a doctor's prescription.
U.S. opioid-involved overdose deaths
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates