The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing $998,834 to launch a proactive program to prevent opioid and substance abuse in north central and northeast Arkansas, a region that has high rates of opioid abuse and overdose deaths.
The two-year program, led by Winrock International in partnership with Ozarka College and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Institute for Digital Health & Innovation, will deliver preventive training, education and resources to youth and adults in Baxter, Fulton, Izard, Sharp and Stone counties.
“USDA has prioritized programs that equip rural communities to prevent opioid abuse and access treatment and recovery resources,” said David Branscum, USDA state director. “As U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has said, the opioid epidemic knows no boundaries. It has cut through communities of all sizes and families of all socio-economic backgrounds.”
Arkansas is the second highest-ranking state in the nation for opioid prescription rates and the Delta region is deeply impacted by opioid abuse and other forms of substance abuse. The five target counties are some of the most at-risk communities in Arkansas, as indicated by incidence of non-specific drug overdose deaths, youth substance abuse and other risk factors.
The program is specifically designed to serve youth and adults who have not received intensive opioid and substance abuse awareness training and education through other programs. While first responders, law enforcement and some school-age children in the region have received opioid abuse training, most of the population has not.
“The opioid crisis is a threat to health and prosperity in Arkansas and across rural America. To grow resilient rural economies, we must address this problem,” said Linsley Kinkade, senior director of U.S. programs at Winrock International. “Many rural Americans lack access to the information and resources they need to prevent and address opioid abuse in their families and communities. Winrock is proud to partner with USDA, Ozarka College and UAMS on this innovative local response.”
The program will improve understanding of opioid and substance abuse, reduce stigma that prevents treatment and increase confidence in identifying and reacting to opioid and substance abuse. Through live presentations, community events, online learning modules and hands-on overdose simulation training, the program will equip residents of Baxter, Fulton, Izard, Sharp and Stone counties, to:
Recognize drug dependence among family members, friends, colleagues, neighbors or themselves;
Seek help for themselves or others through area treatment and counseling centers;
Prevent drug exposure, dependency and overdose; and, React and respond to an overdose.
“We are passionate to engage in important programs to help our friends, families and neighbors access the resources they need to reach their potential,” said Dr. Richard Dawe, president of Ozarka College. “Our role as a primary partner in this vital program, will be to develop curriculum and deliver workshops tailored to the needs of our community and this will make a real and lasting difference in people’s lives.”
Five presentations will be delivered by Ozarka College in the region and will be live-streamed to uamspatientslearn.org, where they will remain available for download and viewing for free to the public. Ten interactive online educational modules will also be made available for free to the public onuamspatientslearn.org.
Ozarka College, in partnership with the UAMS Centers for Simulation Education, will host 40 workshops at various venues across the five target counties and 14 additional youth workshops will be hosted at 14 high schools. Program workshops will incorporate 20 hands-on, risk-free overdose simulation trainings with high-tech mannequins to train people of all ages to react and respond to an overdose.
“Rural health continues to be a priority of UAMS and our Institute for Digital Health & Innovation is dedicated to eliminating health disparities in rural communities,” said UAMS Chancellor Dr. Cam Patterson. “UAMS is proud to be a partner in this effort to fight the opioid epidemic, along with our other programs such as MATRIARC and UAMS AR-IMPACT that assist health professionals who provide treatment for opioid use disorders.”
Preventive education efforts will continue in the region beyond the two-year program through ongoing use of the curriculum, online resources and overdose simulation trainings.