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Arkansas is known as "The Natural State" because of its widely variety of landscapes, including massive forests, majestic mountains, lakes, streams, endless valleys, and fertile plains. But as beautiful as the great state of Arkansas can be, a dark cloud looms large on the horizon.
Drug and alcohol abuse is a national problem, and no state in the US has been spared. For Arkansas—which has always grappled with a large amount of poverty--the circumstances are particularly challenging. As of 2010, Arkansas was the third poorest state in the nation, and in the most recent survey, Arkansas was one of the top ten states for rates of drug-use in several categories, including: use of illicit drugs (other than marijuana) among people age 12-17, and nonmedical pain reliever use among people over the age of 12.
Given Arkansas's poverty rate and high addiction statistics, it would be easy to think that being poor causes addiction. But, when we look at the relationship between addiction and poverty, we quickly realize that it's a bit more complicated.
Poorer people are statistically more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, but this doesn't necessarily mean that poverty causes addiction, per se. In fact in some cases, financial troubles are the direct result of a substance use disorder.
Poverty does increase stress, and stress is well recognized as a factor for substance abuse and relapse. When you're struggling, there's a great temptation to turn to substances that make you feel good, like drugs and alcohol. Poverty also increases feelings of hopelessness and decreases self-esteem, which can leave some people more vulnerable to developing substance abuse disorders. But, addiction can cause people to slip into poverty too. Someone who is solidly middle class can fall into poverty if their addiction leads to poor work performance and job loss. It can also then be harder to get a new job, if someone has been fired from their old one. It's a vicious downward spiral.
Much like the rest of the United States, the scourge of opioid addiction has blown through Arkansas like a wildfire, laying waste to whole communities, and decimating families. In Arkansas, nearly half of the 444 reported drug overdose deaths involved opioids in 2018—a total of 208 fatalities (and a rate of 7.4.) Opioid addiction is a particularly menacing foe because it's an addiction that can sneak up on people, even when they think they're being vigilant.
Prescription painkillers (like Oxycontin, Vicodin, and Percocet) are highly addictive, in large part because they activate the powerful reward centers in the human brain. These drugs trigger the release of endorphins, (your brain's feel-good neurotransmitters) which mask or interrupt your perception of pain and enhance feelings of pleasure and happiness, creating a short-lasting but extremely powerful sense of well-being. It's only human to love the feeling! And, when an opioid starts to wear off, it's in our very human nature to crave the return of that wonderful sense that everything is perfect and as it should be. This is the first step on the path toward addiction, and it can happen even to people who think they're being careful.
The root of the opioid problem stems from doctors over-prescribing these highly addictive drugs when, in many cases, Tylenol, Excedrin or Advil will do. These drugs may seem safe, especially when doctors prescribe them, but just one or two of few these prescription pain pills can get people hooked and send them off on a downward spiral into the throes of full-on dependency. In 2018, Arkansas providers wrote 93.5 opioid prescriptions for every 100 people!
Unfortunately, prescription painkiller abuse can often send people down far darker paths. Opioids often lead to heroin addiction, (as heroin is cheaper than the pills, and usually far easier to obtain on the street.) The spiral downward doesn't stop there. When certain street drugs like heroin aren't available, drug abusers often then turn to incredibly powerful and dangerous synthetics like fentanyl, which sooner or later result in a body bag. In the United States, synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, are now the most common drugs involved in drug overdose deaths, responsible for 59% of all opioid-related decedents.
A 2010 study took a look at the substances most commonly abused by Arkansas youth, and the numbers are concerning:
31% of Arkansas high school students report they've used marijuana in their lifetime. This is particularly concerning because we know that marijuana use has been shown to negatively affect brain development in young people.
9% of Arkansas high school students report they've used cocaine (in any form.)
5% of Arkansas young people (ages 12-17) report using pain relievers in a way not directed by a doctor.
The good news for Arkansas residents struggling with drug and alcohol addiction is that help is only a few clicks away. The Natural State is awash in resources, whether you just need counseling, a broader more community-based approach, or full-on detox services. All it takes is the courage to take the first, terrifying step. Embrace the pain that got you here. Use it, own it, and move past it. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.
Arkansas State Facts
Arkansas Population: 2,673,380
Law Enforcement Officers in Arkansas: 6,596
Arkansas Prison Population: 16,600
Arkansas Probation Population: 28,119
Violent Crime Rate National Ranking: 22
2004 Federal Drug Seizures in Arkansas
Cocaine: 714.8 kgs.
Heroin: 0.2 kgs.
Methamphetamine: 12.9 kgs.
Marijuana: 6,304.2 kgs.
Ecstasy: 271 tablets
Methamphetamine Laboratories: 564 (DEA, state, and local)
Arkansas Drug Situation: The availability and rate of drug abuse in Arkansas remain high. Methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana, are the most common abused and distributed drugs in Arkansas. Though smuggling methods involve all forms of transportation, the largest quantities of drugs in Arkansas are seized on the highways via interdiction programs. Each year, tens of thousands of pounds of marijuana and hundreds of kilograms of cocaine are seized on Arkansas’ interstates, particularly Interstate 40. Most of the large drug seizures in Arkansas involve tractor-trailers, although private vehicles account for a significant percentage of total seizures, particularly methamphetamine seizures. Significant quantities of drugs are also seized from other forms of transportation including commercial air and bus service.
Cocaine in Arkansas: Crack cocaine, as well as powder cocaine, has continued to be a significant and long-term problem in Arkansas, especially in the inner cities. Even though methamphetamine use has surpassed Cocaine use in Arkansas, cocaine use and distribution has continued to be the foremost concern for Arkansas law enforcement authorities because of it's staggering impact on Arkansas communities in terms of violent crime, including homicides, principally by street gangs. The increased availability of cocaine and the expansion of street gang activity beyond traditional areas of operation have led to the spread of crack to many suburban and rural areas of Arkansas. Crack’s explosive growth and dominance can be attributed to the drug’s wide availability, inexpensive price, simplicity of conversion from powdered cocaine hydrochloride, and its addictive properties. Rates of crack cocaine abuse are significantly high in Arkansas and concentrated in the black communities. Significant distribution points in Arkansas for for crack cocaine include Little Rock, Texarkana, El Dorado, Hot Springs and Dumas. Cocaine is transported into Arkansas in both powder and crack form. Powder cocaine usually arrives in multi-kilogram quantities, while crack arrives in multi-ounce or kilogram quantities.
Heroin in Arkansas: Heroin use and distribution in Arkansas is not identified by local law enforcement agencies as a significant problem. Heroin trafficking patterns in central Arkansas are difficult to discern, as there have been so few investigations of this type. The small amount of black tar heroin that is encountered in central Arkansas appears to be imported into the state by the Mexican trafficking organizations already in existence. Recently, a small amount (one-gram) of tar heroin originating in the Los Angeles area was seized by the DEA Little Rock District Office. This heroin had been shipped to Little Rock through a parcel service. The city of Baltimore, Maryland has been identified as a source city of gram quantities of Colombian heroin encountered in Little Rock. The heroin in this instance was also shipped to the recipient through the mail.
Methamphetamine in Arkansas: Once limited to a problem only in Southwest and Pacific regions of the United States, methamphetamine use and distribution has now become the primary concern in Arkansas and surrounding areas. Arkansas is encountering locally produced methamphetamine as well as the importation of methamphetamine produced in Mexico. Not only does the rural landscape of Arkansas provide an ideal setting for illicit manufacturing of methamphetamine, but the wide availability of precursor chemicals also contributes to the ease of manufacturing methamphetamine within the state. Criminal groups are acquiring thousands of cases of pseudoephedrine via wholesalers and use sophisticated schemes to illegally ship, at a considerable profit, pseudoephedrine to methamphetamine producers within Arkansas.
Club Drugs in Arkansas: MDMA, otherwise known as Ecstasy, is the most prevalent and popular club drug in Arkansas. Other dangerous drugs increasing in popularity and demand throughout Arkansas include LSD, OxyContin and GHB. These dangerous drugs are commonly found and continue to be the drugs of choice at “rave” functions and college hangouts throughout the state, especially in the metropolitan areas of Arkansas.
Drug trafficking sources in California transport LSD to the Little Rock and Fayetteville areas of Arkansas for redistribution. LSD is sold in different forms including blotter paper and small vials of liquid. LSD shipments are also mailed through the U.S. Postal Service and commercial shipping companies.
Marijuana in Arkansas: Marijuana is readily available and in high demand throughout Arkansas. Domestically produced marijuana and marijuana grown in Mexico are both popular in Arkansas. The rural nature of the land, the warm climate, and long growing season in Arkansas benefit cultivators to produce domestic marijuana. Common growing areas for domestically produced marijuana are in the eastern and northwestern regions of Arkansas. Domestically produced marijuana in Arkansas is grown indoors as well as outdoors. Indoor cultivation is primarily found in cities and occasionally in rural areas, comprised of fifty to two hundred plants per site. The outdoor growing sites more commonly range from small patches of twenty to several hundred plants scattered throughout an area located near a water source. Plots are usually within a mile or two radius of each other. As air surveillance by Arkansas law enforcement personnel has intensified, the outdoor sites have become smaller and more scattered. Asset forfeiture laws have prompted cultivators to utilize leased hunting land, timberland, or national forest land as grow sites. The DEA Fayetteville Resident Office maintains a close working relationship with the U.S. Forestry Service in view of the unique marijuana situation in northwest Arkansas.
DEA Mobile Enforcement Teams: This cooperative program with state and local law enforcement counterparts was conceived in 1995 in response to the overwhelming problem of drug-related violent crime in towns and cities across the nation. There have been 409 deployments completed resulting in 16,763 arrests of violent drug criminals as of February 2004. There have been two (2) Mobile Enforcement Team deployments in the State of Arkansas since the inception of the program, both in Pine Bluff.
DEA Regional Enforcement Teams: This program was designed to augment existing DEA division resources by targeting drug organizations operating in the United States where there is a lack of sufficient local drug law enforcement. This Program was conceived in 1999 in response to the threat posed by drug trafficking organizations that have established networks of cells to conduct drug trafficking operations in smaller, non-traditional trafficking locations in the United States. Nationwide, there have been 22 deployments completed resulting in 608 arrests of drug trafficking criminals as of February 2004. There have been no Regional Enforcement Team deployments in the State of Arkansas.
Special Topics HIDTA: The Little Rock District Office is in the process of organizing two HIDTA initiatives in an effort to join the Gulf Coast HIDTA. The two initiatives will each consist of two task force groups, one Major Investigations Team and one Highway Interdiction Team. One initiative will be located in Little Rock, AR and the other will be located in Fort Smith, AR.