According to the Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, a new grant could help stem the tide in the opioid epidemic.

Arkansas currently has the second highest opioid prescribing rate in the nation, and some of the highest rates of opioid abuse and opioid-related deaths. A recent grant from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) will assist Arkansas in creating a comprehensive data repository system that will enable law enforcement and health care to work together to improve Arkansas’ response to the drug abuse epidemic and opioid-related deaths.

Addressing the opioid abuse epidemic begins with collection and analysis of data showing the extent and location of the problem and identifying and employing community resources to respond to the issue.

“Currently, there is no common platform to readily share drug crime data among local law enforcement agencies,” an AMFC press release said. “Similarly lacking is a common platform for health care data such as overdoses, hospital admissions/discharges, and medical examiner and coroner mortality data. Nor is it possible to share data across health care and law enforcement agencies. Arkansas does not have a comprehensive view of its drug abuse environment.

Arkansas faces two other important barriers to formulating effective policies to address fatal overdoses.

First, death certificates often inaccurately reflect the role of drugs in the cause of death, reporting them as “undetermined manner of death.” This prevents a clear understanding of geographic differences in opioid-related deaths so we can react quickly when deadly new drugs enter our communities.

Secondly, reporting of overdose deaths takes months to one year, dangerously delaying public health and law enforcement responses to a rapidly changing drug abuse landscape. Stakeholders and policy makers need to understand the circumstances of an overdose in order to coordinate prevention and treatment efforts and effectively allocate limited resources.

The DOJ grant was awarded to the Arkansas Drug Director’s Office and AFMC, as a subrecipient. They will partner with key state agencies and organizations to bring together unique data sources to create a comprehensive data repository that will allow law enforcement, researchers, policy makers, the medical community and other critical stakeholders to access timely information to address the state’s opioid abuse problem.

AFMC will develop an online dashboard that will present various data sources in meaningful and actionable formats. It will be available to the public and stakeholders while maintaining individual confidentiality. These data will be available for in-depth research, timely identification of spikes in drug crimes, identification of areas of special need and resource gaps.

Key participants who will work together on this project include the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Division of Aging, Adult & Behavioral Health Services (DHS-DAABHS), Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), Arkansas State Crime Laboratory (ASCL), Arkansas Coroners’ Association and the Arkansas Hospital Association (AHA). Additional data-sharing partners will be identified during year one of the grant period.

AFMC is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Little Rock, with an additional office in Fort Smith.

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