Arkansas is grappling with a severe public health emergency as the incidence of drug overdoses continues to escalate, particularly from opioids contaminated with fentanyl.
State authorities report that in 2021, there were 618 overdose fatalities, with approximately 65% attributed to illicit fentanyl either independently or in combination with other substances.
While the entire state is feeling the impact of this crisis, one city, Fayetteville, stands out as the hardest hit.
Fayetteville, the third-largest city in Arkansas and the location of the University of Arkansas, has been identified as the epicenter of drug overdoses in the state according to a recent study by the Arkansas Department of Health.
The City With the Highest Rate of Drug Overdose
The analysis, covering data from 2019 to 2020, discovered that Fayetteville had the highest overdose death rate per 100,000 people in the state, registering 56.8 deaths.
This figure was more than double the state average of 25.9 deaths and significantly surpassed the national average of 21.6 deaths. In terms of sheer numbers, Fayetteville also recorded the highest count of overdose deaths, totaling 121 in 2020, followed by Little Rock with 97 deaths and Fort Smith with 51 deaths.
Furthermore, the report highlighted that Fayetteville had the highest proportion of overdose deaths involving fentanyl, reaching 78.5%, compared to the state average of 65.4%.
The report attributed Fayetteville’s elevated overdose rate to various factors, including its proximity to major drug trafficking routes, a substantial student population, insufficient treatment and prevention services, and limited awareness regarding the risks of fentanyl.
Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid significantly more potent than morphine (50 to 100 times), is frequently mixed with heroin or other substances to enhance their strength and profitability.
However, even small amounts of fentanyl can be lethal, posing a risk for users who may be unaware of the substance’s presence or potency.
Efforts to Reduce the Drug Overdoses Issue
Fayetteville officials and community leaders have taken a number of steps to address this crisis, including making naloxone—a medication that reverses opioid overdoses—more widely available, increasing access to medication-assisted treatment, improving drug education and outreach programs, and working with law enforcement and medical professionals to lower the supply and demand of illicit drugs.
According to Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan, the city is dedicated to saving lives and assisting individuals in their addiction recovery.
“We are not going to give up on our people. We are going to do everything we can to prevent overdoses, to treat those who are suffering, and to support those who are in recovery. We are not the drug overdoses capital of the state. We are the recovery capital of the state,” he stated.
Other Cities With Drug Overdoses Crisis
Several other cities and areas in Arkansas are grappling with the drug overdose crisis:
1. Little Rock: As the capital and largest city of Arkansas, Little Rock experienced 97 overdose deaths in 2020, marking the second-highest tally in the state.
Notably, the city had a significant proportion of overdose deaths attributed to fentanyl, accounting for 72.2%.
2. Fort Smith: Ranking as the second-largest city in Arkansas, Fort Smith recorded 51 overdose deaths in 2020, securing the third-highest position statewide.
The city also exhibited a high rate of overdose deaths per 100,000 population, with 38.9 deaths, surpassing both state and national averages.
3. Benton County: Located in northwest Arkansas, Benton County reported 44 total overdose deaths in 2020, with 25% involving fentanyl.
Notably, the county had the highest rate of overdose deaths per 100,000 population in the state, with 56.8 deaths, more than double the state and national averages.
A serious public health emergency is currently affecting Arkansas due to an increase in drug overdoses, especially those utilizing drugs laced with fentanyl. Although Fayetteville is clearly the epicenter, Little Rock, Fort Smith, and Benton County are also heavily affected.
Fayetteville’s resolve to establish itself as a “recovery capital” is an inspiration to other cities. Nonetheless, to guarantee success throughout the state, consistent work and sufficient funding are required.
The only way Arkansas can effectively tackle this intricate public health epidemic is by implementing a coordinated strategy that places a high priority on harm reduction, treatment, prevention, and law enforcement cooperation.