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Grant aims to slow opioid abuse in state

The Jonesboro Sun - 11/16/2017

JONESBORO - Thanks to a federal grant, help will soon be coming to rural communities to combat the opioid epidemic.

Dr. Lisa Washburn, associate professor of health for the Cooperative Extension Service at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said a recent $321,912 grant given by the United States Department of Agriculture'sNational Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) will help fund programs to help those suffering from chronic pain to deal with the pain without becoming addicted to prescription drugs.

"Part of the beauty of this approach is that it is truly community based," Washburn said. "Access to community resources is an important component."

The money comes from NIFA's Rural Health and Safety Education Competitive Grant Program. The decision to earmark the money for use in fighting against opioid abuse comes at a time where opioid-related deaths continue to rise. In 2016, Arkansas saw the number of opioid-related deaths increase from 287 to 335, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Arkansas currently ranks second in the country in prescription rate, administering 114 pills on average for every opioid prescription for a single person.

The extension service is not a healthcare provider, but is involved in health education and with the money, can partner with healthcare providers to provide services to residents across the state.

Most prescriptions that lead to abuse are written to deal with non-cancer chronic pain, Washburn said. To combat that, the extension service will focus on providing exercise opportunities, as well as teaching those with chronic conditions to self-manage their pain. Studies have shown that exercise can benefit those who are suffering from chronic pain, she said.

The exercise program is called "Move with Ease," and focuses on strength exercises, deep breathing, guided relaxation and guided meditation.

Out of the Dark co-founder Skip Mooney said exercise can indeed help those suffering from pain.

"I've heard people in recovery say (exercise) can be a substitute (for pills)," Mooney said. "It's easy to sit around and be in pain and do nothing but take pills."

Mooney said the grant is a positive step toward combating the opioid crisis.

"It takes a little bit of everything," Mooney said. "... I think anything we could do from every angle ... we need to do that."

Mooney stressed in order to turn the tide in the fight against opioid abuse, the entire culture must be engaged.

"You can't just hand it to a few people and say, 'Here, go do it,'" Mooney said.

While the extension service will help lead some of the programs, volunteers will play a key role in helping clients, Washburn said. The service utilizes Extension Wellness Ambassadors, who will help lead efforts to teach the community about opioid abuse and how to prevent it.

Residents in rural areas may not have consistent access to healthcare providers, but these new programs can be offered close to home. Hospitals will help by referring patients to the programs, Washburn said.

In addition to the programs, the extension service will continue to do broad consumer education in communities, as well as promote awareness on social media, Washburn said.

The programs will last two years and will serve a total of 10 counties, four in the first year. Those counties are Montgomery, Clark, Hot Springs and Ouachita counties, Washburn said. It is not yet known what six counties will be part of the program's second year.


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