State officials announced that school nurses will be provided with kits containing naloxone nasal spray, which helps keep people alive when they have overdosed on painkillers known as opioids.

According to state drug officials, there have been three cases of opioid overdoses in Arkansas high schools in the past year.

Over the past two years, emergency first responders have revived 262 Arkansans who were in danger of dying from an overdose. Naloxone allows them to continue breathing so that they have time to get emergency medical treatment.

Equipping about 1,100 school nurses with a naloxone kit is the most recent in the state’s efforts to fight the deadly effects of opioid abuse. Arkansas is among the nation’s leaders in abuse of prescription painkillers.

In 2017 the legislature approved Act 284, which authorized 6,100 pharmacists in Arkansas to dispense naloxone without a prior prescription in cases of an overdose. Also in 2017 the legislature added employees of the state Crime Lab to the list of responders who could get naloxone kits from pharmacists. The list includes family members of people in danger of dying from an overdose, as well as first responders and emergency medical technicians.

Earlier this year, the Arkansas Criminal Justice Institute distributed naloxone kits to 1,390 first responders and police officers, funded through a grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield’s Blue and You Foundation.

Act 1114 of 2015 provides immunity from criminal prosecution for people who bring overdose victims to a hospital.

We became the 15th state to enact so-called “medical amnesty” laws. It was inspired by the case of a young man in Faulkner County who died of a drug overdose within a couple of blocks of a hospital.

Act 447 of 2019 requires that prescriptions of controlled substances be done electronically. This strengthened an existing law, Act 304 of 2011, which created the Arkansas Electronic Prescription Monitoring Program. It’s a database operated by the state Health Department that allows for analysis of the dispensing and use of controlled substance prescription drugs. It protects patient privacy, but allows monitoring agencies to spot potential abuse.

Arkansas is one of numerous states that have joined lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and distribute opioids.

In April the state Attorney General filed suit against three wholesale distributors of prescription drugs, alleging that they failed to comply with laws requiring them to report suspicious shipments of opioids. Instead, they distributed 67 dosage units for every person in Arkansas, the suit alleges. Arkansas has a population of about three million people and 236 million painkillers were delivered into the state in 2016.

A previous lawsuit was filed in 2018 by 72 of the state’s 75 counties and 210 cities, in which 90 percent of the state’s residents live. The suit contends that opioid manufacturers should pay for the cost of treating and preventing abuse of the drugs. The cities and counties say that since 2000, the number of fatal overdoses from opioids in Arkansas has gone up 300 percent, to about 400 people a year.

Both lawsuits emphasize that in Arkansas there are more prescriptions for painkillers than there are people.

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