The Arkansas Rural Health Partnership (ARHP), a public nonprofit comprised of 14 rural hospital members spanning south Arkansas, is one of 21 sites selected to receive the Rural Responses to the Opioid Epidemic grant. ARHP will receive $750,000 over the next two years to design and implement an intervention to bridge the gap between healthcare providers and the judicial system, seeking to expand access to therapeutic services for individuals with opioid use disorder.

This grant, co-funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the State Justice Institute, is designed to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with opioid overdoses among individuals who come in contact with law enforcement or are involved in the criminal justice system in high-risk rural communities and regions. As a first step, ARHP recently hired Robert Deen to serve as the project coordinator for the Rural Response to the Opioid Epidemic grant. Deen, a Southeast Arkansas native, attended Monticello high school, graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello in 2015 and the UA Wiliam H. Bowen School of Law in 2018.

According to the Arkansas Drug Director’s office, Arkansas is 2nd in the U.S. for over-prescribing opioid medications at an average of 114.6 opioid prescriptions per 100 people (the national average is 66.5 prescriptions per 100 people). There are more opioid prescriptions than people in Arkansas. Opioid use disorder reaches into every community in Arkansas, affecting individuals, families and workplaces across the state.

“The Arkansas Rural Health Partnership has been working closely with my office as well as other community and state partners to address the Opioid Epidemic in South Arkansas. We know that there are gaps involved in this rural area that needs to be desperately addressed,” said Arkansas State Drug Director Kirk Lane. “The ability to utilize available funding from the Rural Responses to the Opioid Epidemic grant, provided by the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), is having a significant impact in building collaborative partnerships and opening lines of communications towards resolving this issues and reducing the stigma caused by substance misuse. I am encouraged by this great effort to date and look forward to the achievements of this working group, as a model for other parts of our state and country.”

Enhancing collaboration between local law enforcement and healthcare services is key to meeting the initiative’s stated goals of preventing and reducing overdose deaths associated with opioids, and advancing a shared understanding of the patterns and characteristics of problem drug use in a local community. According to ARHP executive director Mellie Bridewell, “The funding through this project will enable ARHP to respond to their respective communities’ requests to provide and increase needed resources for South Arkansas judicial and law enforcement agencies to address this issue.”

“We are excited to partner with Arkansas Rural Health Partnership, the collaboration of local and state leaders is paramount for the safety of the citizens of Arkansas,” said John Carter, Commander of the 10th Judicial District Drug Task Force.