Drug overdose deaths increased across Arkansas in 2016, including in Saline County, according to information released Friday by the Arkansas Office of the State Drug Director.

Picture1“The overdose deaths have been increasing dramatically throughout the country, but sometimes people don’t realize that this is a problem in every element of society,” Benton Police Chief Kirk Lane said. “Some people may think that drug problems such as opioid abuse and heroin use only happens in major cities, but we have this problem in our own community. This is the major reason why we are so involved with the drug-take-back event Operation Medicine Cabinet and educating the public about the opioid epidemic.”

Saline County had a decrease from 13 drug overdose deaths in 2014 to zero in 2015. The number of deaths due to drug overdose rose back up to 13 in 2016. There were 349 drug overdose deaths in Arkansas in 2014 and that number decreased to 287 drug overdose deaths in 2015, a reduction of 18 percent. In 2016, the number increased by 17 percent at 335 drug overdose deaths in Arkansas. *(These charts were developed from autopsied individuals only. The data was generated from autopsy reports containing one of the following words: intox, overdose, toxicity)

The highest amount of drug overdose deaths each year in Arkansas were in Pulaski County (79 in 2014, 67 in 2015, and 77 in 2016). Across the U.S. drug overdose deaths have hit an all-time record exceeding vehicle fatalities by 150 percent. More than 143 people in America die each day due to a drug overdose. The rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (heroin and prescription opioids – oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, fentanyl, and other pain relievers) has increased by 200 percent since 2000.

On an average day in the U.S: more than 650,000 opioid prescriptions are dispensed; 3,900 people initiate nonmedical use of prescription opioids; 580 people initiate heroin use; and 78 people died from opioid-related overdose. A large portion of people who abuse prescription opioids report that they obtained them in the homes of loved ones, including 42 percent of teenagers obtaining prescription medicines from their parent’s medicine cabinet. Also, 64 percent of teenagers (age 12-17) that have abused prescription pain relievers say they got them from friends or relatives. About two-thirds of all prescription drugs (which also include stimulants such as Adderall and depressants like Ativan) illegally obtained are taken from people’s homes and not pharmacies or off the street.

But we can reverse the epidemic by taking precautions, such as locking up medications, and by participating in events such as Operation Medicine Cabinet. The medicines collected will be handled by law enforcement officers and will then be disposed in an environmentally safe manner. The protection of the environment is another reason to participate in Operation Medicine Cabinet.

Medicines that are flushed or poured down the drain can end up polluting our waters, impacting aquatic species, and contaminating our food and water supplies. Most medicines are not removed by wastewater treatment plants or septic systems. Scientists have found medicines in surface, ground and marine waters as well as soils and sediments in the Pacific Northwest. Even at very low levels, medicines in the environment hurt aquatic life.

In an effort to greatly reduce the epidemic, the Benton Police Department will hold Operation Medicine Cabinet XIV on Saturday, April 29 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the parking lot of Walmart, located at 17309 Interstate 30 in Benton. People are encouraged to drop off expired or unused medications at the event. Officers will not ask for any identification or other questions regarding the prescriptions being dropped off. Medications can also be dropped into a 24/7 drop box located at the front of the Benton Police Department, located at 114 S. East St. The prescription medications will later be counted for statistical purposes and destroyed at a facility in an environmentally safe manner.

Operation Medicine Cabinet XIV, and the state-wide event, are both dedicated to the late William “Will” Christian Doerhoff and Will Doerhoff was a college student who after being peer-pressured into abusing prescription opioids began using heroin, which ultimately led to a sudden death. His parents created to not only tell the story of their son, but to also warn people about the signs of prescription drug abuse. The family also created the Speak Up-Speak Out program in which state and federal leaders speak to students at universities throughout the state about prescription drug abuse and the Arkansas Drug Take Back program.

Information about this event will also be shared on various Benton Police Department social media pages (including Facebook: Benton Police Department, Twitter: Benton Police Dept., and Instagram: bentonpolicear) with the following hashtag: #KillerInTheCabinet and website link: The Benton Police Department has partnership with Arkansas Take Back, which is the promotion of drug-take-back events to be held throughout Arkansas.