Addiction in Fort Smith, Arkansas
Fort Smith is the second largest city in Arkansas, with a population of roughly 86,209 inhabitants. Although alcohol is an issue for the Fort Smith area, the bigger and more immediate concern for the city is prescription and illicit opioid abuse. Sebastian County (which includes Fort Smith) was flagged by the Drug Enforcement Agency in 2017 as one of the top 8 counties in Arkansas that needs assistance in battling opioid abuse and overdose deaths.
Prescription Opioid and Heroin Abuse in Fort Smith
The entire state of Arkansas is in the middle of an opioid epidemic, and Fort Smith has not been spared its crippling effects. Sebastian County had a painkiller prescribing rate of 169 per 100 people in 2016, which is significantly higher than the Arkansas average of 114 painkiller prescriptions per 100 people. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Sebastian County additionally led Arkansas in arrests for selling, manufacturing, and/or possessing opioids from the years 2011-2015.
To fight the growing opioid crisis, the Arkansas Medical Board has approved new laws and regulations limiting the rates that physicians can prescribe opioid pain medications; however, many local officials fear that this may encourage heroin use as prescription pills become scarcer and harder to obtain. Roughly 8 out of 10 heroin users first began abusing opiate prescription drugs. Fort Smith residents have seen an increase in the use of heroin, and 40% of people have identified heroin as an emerging problem for the community.
Three or four years ago, it’d be hard to buy a gram of heroin. Now we’re buying multiple grams in the same area.
The increased presence of heroin in the Fort Smith area seems to be a natural progression of the opioid epidemic that is plaguing the state; it is simply the next and more dangerous phase of widespread opioid abuse. Initially sourced from drug cartels in Mexico, major trafficking cities like Little Rock, Dallas, and Oklahoma City are now moving heroin into the western Arkansas region. Local officials are attributing the increased presence of the drug to the cheap cost of heroin. Arkansas is the third lowest in the nation for household income, and heroin is a cheaper alternative to prescription opioid pills that offers a similar high.
Heroin’s typical entry pathway into Arkansas is similar to that of one of the most popular illicit drugs in the state – methamphetamine. Methamphetamine, commonly referred to as “crystal” or “meth,” is a highly addictive stimulant drug that produces an intense, euphoric high. Both heroin and meth are trafficked to the Fort Smith region from the bordering urban areas of Dallas and Oklahoma City, as well as rural areas of Arkansas. The two substances have recently been progressively trafficked together, contributing to an increase in the two drugs being used in tandem with one another. The DEA has cited that about 25% of all the drugs they seize in heroin buys in western Arkansas have lately included both heroin and methamphetamine. This new trend is of particular concern, as both are potent drugs, and using heroin and meth together increases the chance of overdose and negative health side effects.
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At-Risk Youth in Fort Smith
Arkansas has the highest estimated rate of nonmedical use of pain relievers by children ages 12-17 compared to other rates of the U.S. Many teenagers abuse drugs not only as a way to fit in with their peers or experiment, but also as a way to cope with personal and familial issues. Youth alcohol use is higher in Sebastian County than the state average and has been steadily increasing since 2013.
In addition to factors such as peer pressure and stress, things like abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction significantly raises a young individual’s probability to abuse drugs or alcohol. The number of children living in foster care in Sebastian county is almost double the rate than the rest of Arkansas, and adolescent depressive symptoms is 5% higher in Fort Smith than the state average. Factors such as these can encourage youth substance abuse as a way of self-medication and lead to a growing dependency later on in life.
Getting Help Now
If substance abuse is tearing your family apart, Fort Smith has a large number of inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation facilities to help you or a loved one. Whether addicted to opioids or stimulants like methamphetamine, there are resources that can help. Contact a dedicated treatment provider and learn about your options today.