LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - A big announcement from the Attorney General in response to the opioid epidemic we are facing here in Arkansas was made on Wednesday.
The opioid epidemic has been called a national health crisis by the President of the United States and it is a crisis we are seeing first hand in Arkansas.
More than 400 overdose deaths were reported in the state in 2016. That’s five times the amount of deaths Arkansas saw 15-years-ago.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control reports Arkansas has the second highest prescribing rate in the country, enough for each person in the state to have more than one opioid prescription in his or her name. Arkansas is also ranked highest in the nation for misuse of painkillers by students, ages 12-17 at 6.2 percent; the national average of 4.7 percent.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Leslie Rutledge announced her office is launching an investigation into opioid manufacturers in an effort to seek out those responsible and prosecute them.
The attorney general said she'll be working with several law firms both in and out of the state as part of this investigation, including Dover Dixon and Horne PLLC out of Little Rock.
“Many of these opioid manufacturers have profited substantially from the sale and distribution of opioids in Arkansas and should be held accountable for remedying the crisis they created,” said Attorney General Rutledge. “The identified law firms have been selected for their specialized expertise and resources to supplement the work of the staff attorneys so as not to take away from ongoing, important cases the office handles on a daily basis.”
The firms have all been retained on a contingency fee basis which means if they are successful in pursuing claims they will get paid. If they are not they will not receive pay.
However, the attorney general did make it clear there is no timeline for this, it’s just simply however long it takes.
Wednesday's announcement is just the latest step in what the Rutledge calls a multifaceted approach to solving the opioid crisis.
In the fall, Rutledge launched a new program called Prescription for Life. Prescription for Life is a first-in-the-nation education initiative featuring a digital platform offered at no cost to all high school students in the State to help them understand the dangers of prescription drug misuse and how to prevent abuse.
To date, it has been launched in 32 schools and reached over 2,100 students. Each year, Rutledge has partnered with a number of agencies in hosting the Arkansas Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention Summit. The summit serves as a free training and educational opportunity for law enforcement officers, medical professionals, pharmacists and educators, and gives an opportunity to hear from experts regarding prescription drug abuse prevention and treatment.
And in addition to the bi-annual Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, Rutledge began partnering in 2016 with local law enforcement across the state to provide prescription drug take-back boxes at every mobile office the Attorney General hosts yearly in all 75 counties which have already resulted in nearly 500 pounds of prescription drugs being safely disposed and out of reach of children and those with addictions.