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Addicted Arkansas: Prescription Drug Abuse

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- More than 47,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2014.
Arkansas contributes to this statistic, having the 25th highest death rate in the country.
Prescription medicine

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- More than 47,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2014.

Arkansas contributes to this statistic, having the 25th highest death rate in the country.

Although Arkansas isn't high on the country's watch list for heroin, as prescription drug abuse gets worse, leaders fear heroin abuse could grow.

Albert Speed had a bright future ahead of him.

“He had the second highest PSAT scores at Central High. He wanted to go to Columbia University and major in engineering,” said Gary Speed, who had a son who loved every thing that makes Arkansas "natural,” that’s until an addiction took over.

“He lost his zest for life,” said Speed, “There's nothing worse in a parent's life than to find out that their child is dead.”

Albert Speed died at 18-year-old in 2006 to a prescription drug overdose.

“The combination of the Methadone and Xanax essentially shut down his respiratory system, and he suffocated,” said Speed.

Fifteen months before his death, Speed found marijuana in Albert's car and confiscated it.

“He got really mad at me and decided he was leaving and he left my house, and I realized then I had a real problem,” said Speed.

His son's anger and lack of enthusiasm were warning signs he was abusing more than just pot.

“Be honest with yourself. Don't be in denial,” said Speed.

An addiction like Albert's all too familiar in Arkansas, with 400 overdose deaths a year happening here.

“It tells you we're having more than 1 a day on average,” said John Kirtley, director of Arkansas’ Pharmaceutical Board.

Kirtley says pill abuse is obvious when they see how many medicines are turned in as part of their Drug Take Back Program.

“It's not like everybody cleaned out their medication cabinets once, and we were good and we were done for,” said Kirtley.

Arkansas' Drug Take Back Program is very successful collecting more than 25,000 pounds of prescription drugs just last April. However, the pharmaceutical board says this success is scary with Arkansas having significantly more prescription drugs than their neighboring states of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.

“We keep repeating this every 6 months. That's how many prescription drugs there are in the state of Arkansas,” said Kirtley.

The sale of opioids in Arkansas is 25% higher than the national average, according to the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement.

“They can become addicted to what everybody thinks is very safe because a doctor prescribed it,” said Matthew Barden, Special Agent with the DEA.

Barden says prescription abuse can lead to harder drugs like heroin.

In 2001, Arkansas State Crime Lab recorded 8 cases of heroin.

So far in 2016, there's been 63 cases, with the year only half way over.

“So many of the people who are addicted to heroin and the opioids will tell you that they first got hooked on pain medication,” said Barden.

Just like addiction to heroin can start early with pain pills, prevention can starts early with education.

“When I look at my 12 year old daughter, I think she's too young to talk to about drug abuse, but what you find in reading these statistics is, she's actually old enough where I should have already started,” said Kirtley.

A simple talk that could give Arkansas' future…a future.

“He gave it all up for some pills. It was just a total waste. He gave up his dreams,” said Speed.

As the problem grows, Arkansas needs more people to come together to stop it.

“Trying to arrest our way out of the situation was our only way of solving the problem, and it's not,” said Barden.

Many prescription drugs are sorted through the hands of chemists at the Arkansas State Crime Lab on a daily basis.

“We have to be a part of the entire solution,” said Barden.

The DEA says the first step of defense is Arkansas' prescription monitoring program.

It tracks every prescription and refill, and each time you change doctors.

“If we didn't have addicts and we didn't have diversion of it, we wouldn't need it, but we do,” said Barden.

The second line of defense is police.

Benton Police Chief Kirk Lane decided his department needed to be part of the lifesaving solution against addiction.

“Look for thinks like blue lips, skin tinge, and cold, clammy skin,” said Terry Fuller, Benton Police Lieutenant.

Fuller created a simulated scene of what a response to an overdose looks like.

Fuller uses a test kit to show how the antagonist Narcan, also known as Naloxone, can revive someone.

The antidote is administered through the nose.

Each kit has 2 milligrams of Narcan. The officer injects half of it at first, followed by a sternum rub to arouse the person.

If they are still unconscious, officers administer the rest of the dosage into the other nostril.

“It should work almost instantaneous,” said Fuller.

The state's pharmaceutical board linked Benton Police to wholesaler "Smith Drug Company."

Eight months ago, they donated 100 free dosages to Benton Police.

“Now we're proud to say that every one of our officers is carrying Narcan,” said Chief Lane.

Benton Police set the precedent for arming every one of their officers with Narcan to save lives. Now, several other police departments are following suit, including North Little Rock, Maumelle, Jacksonville, and Arkansas State Police.

North Little Rock Police are about 3 to 4 months out from having Narcan at every substation for every shift

“We have to develop policy on this,” said Sgt. Brian Dedrick, NLRPD.

Although it's expensive, NLRPD say that's not stopping them for going forward with the initiative.

“Whether we get the grant or not, we're still going absorb the cost,” said Dedrick.

With saving lives the priority over the cost, these agencies are hopeful grants will still come.

“We haven't been able to find a funding source to continue it, up until the last several weeks,” said Chief Lane.

Just last week, The Clinton Foundation offered 10,000 free doses of Narcan to all public safety agencies in Pulaski County.

“Naloxone is here to stay,” said Chief Lane.

The final part of the solution is you, the individual.

After Speed lost his teenage son to a drug overdose, he went back to school to become a registered nurse.

“It's part of my therapy,” said Speed, “I see firsthand people who have drug problems and have overdosed.”

The individual can use their experience to educate others.

“We should really find other ways to deal with our pain and not try to be "pain free" because there's an expense there,” said Speed.

THV11 is committed to this.

We want to contribute to the solution, with the goal of educating Arkansans, so less lives are lost to this common addiction.

The next Arkansas Drug Take Back day will be sometime in October, but you can turn over prescription drugs 24-7 at any drop off location. Those locations can be found here: http://www.artakeback.org/search-collection-sites#sthash.B3HVROew.dpbs

This contains very useful facts and information about opioid addiction from the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement: