Dak Kees, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Arkansas, recently brought federal charges against a Texarkana doctor after an investigation uncovered that he prescribed over 1.2 million dosages of opioids to over 15,000 patients over a two-year period.
These are shocking numbers. But then again, every number related to the opioid epidemic is alarming.
According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 130 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses. The opioid crisis claimed the lives of 47,000 Americans in 2017.
The impact of this national epidemic has been felt acutely in the Natural State. CDC data showed we had the second-highest prescribing rate over recent years — enough for each Arkansan to have more than one opioid prescription in his or her name. It has taken a conscious effort by the medical community to drive those numbers down from approximately 250,000 opioid prescriptions per month in 2014 to nearly 220,000 opioid prescriptions per month in the later portions of 2018 — a 12% decrease over a four-year period. Rogue actors writing illegal opioid prescriptions cannot be allowed to set back the progress that Arkansas’s medical professionals have made to responsibly reduce that number.
That’s why the announcement of these charges is so important. We cannot stem the tide unless we enforce accountability among prescribers.
At the press conference announcing the charges, Kees said "I hope this is a wake-up call. And trust me when I say, there will be many more wake-up calls to come." Both Kees and Cody Hiland, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, have been empowered to hold suspected over-prescribers responsible. This move sends a clear message as to their intention to crack down on this behavior in order to end the plague of opioid addiction in Arkansas.
Ensuring illicit opioids do not continue to flood our communities and state without consequence is an important part of our overall strategy. Congress has responded to the crisis with a variety of solutions aimed at promoting a comprehensive approach to reverse the trend.
The latest opioid-related law tackles this public health emergency with a multi-faceted, far-reaching approach. From the enforcement side, the law enhances efforts to combat illegal drugs at the border and includes additional measures to crack down on the shipment of synthetic opioids. It aims to drive innovative and long-term solutions that will spur the development of new non-addictive painkillers and ensure parity in mental health and substance use disorder benefits. On the treatment end, the law increases family-focused care and encourages recovery by supporting states’ efforts to address substance use disorders by increasing access to medication-assisted treatment, health professionals, long-distance care and recovery housing services.
The treatment and recovery aspect of our strategy is key. Federal resources are being deployed nationwide to break the cycle of addiction. These grants are invaluable for facilities that give addicts and their families new hope in the fight against opioid abuse. We have a responsibility to ensure that these investments are delivering the intended results. The good news, from what I have seen firsthand at treatment facilities in Arkansas, is these efforts are indeed helping.
The opioid crisis has had a widespread and destructive effect on the Natural State. Many good people are working hard to end it. I am committed to supporting their efforts to attain that goal.
John Boozman is one of two senators representing the state of Arkansas in the U.S. Congress. Visit Senator Boozman’s website at boozman.senate.gov or call his Washington office at (202) 224-4843.