The misuse and abuse of fentanyl has escalated in the United States – particularly in Arkansas – and securing the US-Mexico border would help combat this epidemic, US Senator Tom Cotton argued on Tuesday.
“It’s been getting worse every year since I’ve been in the public light,” said Cotton, who was joined by several state officials at a roundtable he hosted. “In many cases, probably when I started in Congress about nine years ago, most Arkansans hadn’t even heard of fentanyl — just an obscure, highly regulated painkiller for certain types of medical conditions.”
Cotton, R-Ark., also said fentanyl is unlike any drug the country has endured.
Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is often used to treat severe pain, such as advanced cancer.
It is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And just two milligrams of fentanyl is considered a lethal dose, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Overdose death rates involving synthetic opioids other than methadone — including fentanyl and fentanyl analogs — increased more than 56% from 2019 to 2020, according to the CDC. The agency reported that more than 56,000 people died in 2020 from overdoses involving synthetic opioids.
The CDC also says the most recent cases of fentanyl-related injuries, overdoses, and deaths in the country are linked to fentanyl that is manufactured and sold illegally. The agency said fentanyl is often mixed with other drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, with or without the knowledge of the user.
Colonel Bill Bryant of the Arkansas State Police said at the roundtable, “Unfortunately, Mexican drug trafficking organizations” use the same major highways – Interstate 55, Interstate 30 and Interstate 40 – which the average Arkansan uses.
So the Interstate Criminal Patrol Team for State Police serves as a “good gauge” for what’s coming into the state, he said.
“What we’re seeing is definitely an increase in fentanyl — it’s crossing the southwest border and the border continues to come into Arkansas and through Arkansas,” Bryant said. “Arkansas is not the only state in the United States affected by fentanyl.”
He said the agency mainly sees counterfeit pills – such as M30 pills which mimic oxycodone pills but contain fentanyl – being sold on “the street”.
“We recently, about a month ago, seized over 56 pounds of fentanyl pills, which I think is equivalent to over a million pills,” Bryant said.
Several of the panelists agreed with Cotton that closing the border would help deal with the crisis.
Cotton said it wouldn’t completely solve the problem, but it would “still go a long way toward solving it.”
He also said there should be an approach in place when it comes to the cartel because “they are now responsible for almost all the drugs in this country.”
Boyce Hamlet, Arkansas’ drug director, said the fentanyl epidemic was going to claim many lives and that “securing the border” would help.
“We are in a dangerous situation,” Hamlet said. “I would like to say that at the federal level, the main thing that could be done to help us deal with this is that we have to secure the border. And I’m not trying to be political, I’m just being honest.
Bud Cummins, a former U.S. attorney, agreed, but said investing in other resources would also help. He said more money needed to be spent on treatment and taking a “more holistic approach”.
“Recovery [and] drug treatment is essential, and our Medicaid reimburses about half the cost of an inpatient. A lot of these providers are treating people for free…we really need to try and direct more resources that way,” he said.
“But we also have to look at politics; we have to close the border. It’s insane, and it’s a totally political decision to leave it open and it needs to be closed – they’re killing our kids,” Cummins said.
Also at the roundtable, Cotton paid tribute to Dr. Kristin Martin, CEO and Medical Director of River Valley Medical Wellness, for her advocacy and addictions efforts in Arkansas.
River Valley Medical Wellness provides addiction care to patients and their families. According to its website, its offerings include evidence-based treatment, individualized treatment plans, drug treatment, therapy, specialized peer recovery support services, and more.
Martin described how his organization grew stronger when a large treatment center suddenly closed at the start of the pandemic.
During a meeting with a therapist, Martin said he received a call from a peer recovery support supervisor.
“He called and he said, ‘Our facility is down, I have 300 patients and no one to care for them. We sat there and it just made my stomach hurt and I was worried. There was a pandemic, an economic crisis and an opioid crisis,” she said.
The doctor said River Valley Medical Wellness responded by setting up a clinic within a week.
“My first year of covid, as Senator Cotton pointed out, I saw more overdose cases and mental health crises in my emergency room than covid cases,” Martin said. “I’ll tell you as a doctor, there’s nothing more heartbreaking than having to call a mum or dad and tell them their child died of an overdose.”
Martin is also known to travel between treatment centers and visit rural settings to help those who may not have access to addiction health care.
The doctor said on Tuesday that she was working with other officials to apply for grants and funds to develop mobile units that could be deployed to local communities that are “problem areas” and need health resources. substance addiction.
Candance DeMatteis of Rx Abuse Leadership Initiative said it’s important to reduce the stigma against substance abuse and embrace those struggling as a community.
“We have a role as parents, but we as a community have a role in educating people and communicating risk,” she said.
Martin said: “This is a fight where we need everyone on deck. We can win this battle if we each do our part.
National Medication Take-Back Day is 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. There are more than 250 locations in Arkansas where people can safely dispose of unused or expired prescription drugs. For more information, visit https://artakeback.org/.
CORRECTION: Dr. Kristin Martin’s first name was misspelled in an earlier version of this article.
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