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Program aims to help cut down on opioid overdose deaths in Arkansas

Daniel Breen
Arkansas Center for Health Improvement President and CEO Dr. Joe Thompson introduces the NaloxHome program at Unity Health-White County Medical Center in Searcy on Tuesday.

A central Arkansas hospital is the first to take part in a program to provide lifesaving overdose-reversal drugs to patients upon being discharged from the emergency room.

The program, called NaloxHome, was launched Tuesday by the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement. It will provide two take-home doses of the lifesaving drug naloxone, also called Narcan, to overdose victims or their family members once they’ve been discharged from the hospital.

Dr. Joe Thompson, president and CEO of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, says the program will first be rolled out at the Unity Health-White County Medical Center in Searcy.

“So for families across the state who have a loved one that has presented to the ER with an overdose situation, we want every family to have naloxone at home so that…

they can take action themselves before the first responders get there,” Thompson said.

Thompson says his group hopes to eventually expand the program to other hospitals in the state. Assistant Chief Brian Wyatt with the Searcy Police Department says they’ve seen the number of overdoses rising in the past four or five years.

“Those numbers are down in comparison to last year, but I attribute that to the law enforcement and local agencies consistently battling the opioids and other illegal substances being brought into our community… as well as programs such as this one that puts Narcan in the hands of those who need it,” Wyatt said.

State Drug Director Kirk Lane says opioids, in particular the powerful synthetic drug fentanyl, have been fueling overdose deaths in Arkansas as a whole for some time.

“Since 2017, we’ve lost 2,343 people to a drug overdose, the majority of that to an opioid overdose. Over 10,000 dosages of naloxone have been administered in that same period of time,” Lane said.

The program is funded by $2.3 million in COVID-19 pandemic relief from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. More information is available online.

Daniel Breen is a Little Rock-based reporter, anchor and producer for KUAR.