In the first three months of 2023, 87 Arkansans died due to drug overdoses. Of those, 48 were due to fentanyl poisoning as a contributing factor to their death. These numbers come from the Arkansas State Crime Lab, and sadly, more deaths have occurred since and more will continue to happen if we as a community don't address the root cause.
While this troubles me, what is equally concerning is these 87 people left behind families, friends, coworkers, neighbors and communities who are in deep, prolonged grief. Regardless of what caused the overdose death, substances like opioids such as heroin and fentanyl, benzodiazepines like lorazepam and clonazepam; over-the-counter cold and cough medicines; synthetic marijuana; or illicit substances like amphetamines, methamphetamine, cocaine, LSD, ecstasy and other stimulants are causing more loved ones to walk the long journey of grieving, and many are doing so alone and without resources.
I know this firsthand. My son died from fentanyl poisoning. My grief was all-consuming, and I did not know where to turn for help. It was then I knew there had to be other parents like me going through this dark, frightening experience, and I wanted them to know there is hope for all of us.
Thanks to funding from the Arkansas Opioid Recovery Partnership, I founded Hope Movement Coalition, an Arkansas-based nonprofit organization providing support to families who have lost a loved one to substance use disorder or fentanyl poisoning, with an emphasis on their mental health and overall well-being.
Did you know that, according to the Arkansas Department of Health, substance misuse is a serious public health issue in Arkansas? Provisional data from the Arkansas Department of Health Vital Statistics notes that in 2021, there were 628 drug overdose deaths in Arkansas, and according to KFF, an independent source for health policy research, polling and news, the age-adjusted death rate due to opioid overdose increased from 6.2 per 100,000 to 13.7 per 100,000 in Arkansas from 2011 to 2021.
Add fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine, into this mix, and you can see our state and nation are in an epidemic we cannot afford to ignore.
The anger, guilt, shame and fear you feel as a loved one left behind cannot be dealt with alone. Hope Movement Coalition works with any family affected by substance abuse or fentanyl poisoning deaths by assigning a case manager to assess the critical needs of each family member, as well as assigning a peer parent or sibling to provide emotional and grief support to families.
The coalition also counts real-time support through a texting app resource, as well as our website, where Arkansans can find information on healing after loss. Hope Movement Coalition also assists families in obtaining insurance to address physical and mental needs from grief and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
With the holidays coming up and many dinner tables with one less person gathered around it for celebrations, I want to emphasize to my fellow Arkansans struggling with grief that there is hope. There is always hope, and there are people in your exact situation who are ready and able to help you as you cope with all aspects of losing someone you love to drug overdose and fentanyl poisoning.
There are people, resources and organizations here to provide for you, and to be sure you know you are deeply, profoundly loved.
Staci James is co-founder and executive director at Hope Movement Coalition. Learn more at hopemovementcoalition.com.