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USDA Gives Grant to UA System to Combat Opioid Abuse in Rural Arkansas

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Opioid Abuse

One underlying reason for opioid abuse is an inability to find an alternative activity like yoga to ease chronic pain. The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave $300,000 to the UA System Division of Agriculture to help address opioid abuse in rural Arkansas.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture granted the UA System Division of Agriculture $300,000 last September to create programs that will educate rural Arkansans about the dangers of opioid abuse.

The Cooperative Extension Service of the UA System Division of Agriculture’s Cooperative Extension Service will use the money provided by the USDA to create programming aimed to address common underlying factors behind opioid abuse, such as a lack of non-drug alternatives like yoga and cognitive-behavioral self-management techniques, to treat chronic pain in rural communities, said Lisa Washburn, the health specialist of the UA System Division of Agriculture and principal investigator on the grant.

For rural Arkansans who are suffering from chronic pain, there are not many resources available to them to use as an alternative, according to a report for the United States Department of Agriculture.

In Arkansas, opioid pain relievers, such as oxycodone or hydrocodone, contributed to 47.3 percent of drug overdose deaths in 2015, according totheArkansas Department Health Prescription Monitoring Program.

Ninety-one Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An opioid is a drug comprised of chemicals that interact with nerve endings in the body and brain and reduces feelings of pain. Different types of opioids include heroin, fentanyl, oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine and many others. Opioid medications, such as oxycodone and hydrocodone, are prescribed for pain management and are generally safe when taken for a short time and as prescribed by a doctor, but because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they can become addictive and be misused, according to the CDC.

“Like any other type of drug use, with something as widespread as this is, it really destroys communities. It destroys families and families are the fabric of communities,” Washburn said.

Healthcare providers wrote nearly 250,000,000 opioid prescriptions in 2013 across the U.S. This is enough for every American adult to have their own bottle of pills, according to the CDC.

The Cooperative Extension Service will offer two specific programs: the Chronic Pain Self-Management Program and Move with Ease, a yoga-based exercise program, and will implement them in the four pilot counties of Montgomery, Hot Spring, Clark and Ouachita in the spring of 2018. Six additional counties will receive the programming within the second year of operation, but those counties have not been determined yet, Washburn said.

The programs will also partner with health care providers to reach people who are in the most in need of treatment for opioid abuse. One health care provider in each of the chosen pilot counties agreed to assist the programs by referring patients, Washburn said.

“We’re hoping this will provide visibility to our availability as a health resource, especially in rural communities where resources are very limited,” Washburn said.

Researchers at the UofA at Fayetteville will evaluate the efficacy of each program created by the UA System Division of Agriculture based on factors such as outcomes on functional fitness, self efficacy for managing pain and improvements in quality of life for those involved in the programs, Washburn said.

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is partnering with the Cooperative Extension Service to provide training for the four pilot counties in January. The Cooperative Extension Service will select the future counties in early summer and will begin those programs in fall of 2018, Washburn said.

Washburn’s staff is also developing a broad consumer education program to span across the state and to qualifying rural counties to educate consumers about opioid risks and alternatives before they are even prescribed an opioid. The program will begin in the summer, Washburn said.

“We will prepare a structured lesson guide, which will be delivered by county Extension agents as a presentation in settings as opportunities arise,” Washburn said. “We also be partnering with pharmacists to develop and distribute some print materials to educate folks and promote Chronic Pain Self-Management and Move with Ease classes.”

A lot of people do not recognize the name of opioid drugs, Washburn said.

“They may be of low health literacy and they are more prone to not ask questions about what they're being prescribed,” Washburn said.

The money is reaching the UA System Division of Agriculture because of an increase in money on the federal level because of greater public awareness of the Arkansas’s opioid problem. Congress appropriated additional money this last grant cycle so that there would be more money in the rural health and safety education competitive grants program, Washburn said.

Beth Dedman is a contributing reporter for The Arkansas Traveler, as well as the Editor-in-Chief of Hill Magazine. Beth previously worked as a staff reporter for the Traveler in 2017, campus news editor in 2018 and lifestyles editor in 2019.

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