Leslie Rutledge, Arkansas Attorney General
Families who are dealing with addiction or who have lost a loved one have long suffered in silence. As a state, we must not only break the silence but break the cycle of addiction.
Since taking office in 2015, I’ve made it a priority to combat the opioid epidemic plaguing our state and country with an all-of-the-above approach including education, litigation and enforcement, designed to prevent and eventually treat the problem. This multifaceted approach has included creating the first in the nation “Prescription for Life” program free to every student in Arkansas to educate young people on the dangers of prescription medications. It has also included filing litigation on behalf of the State of Arkansas against opioid manufacturers for lying to Arkansans about the addictiveness of their products and the harm that their products have inflicted.
The manufacturers, however, had a willing accomplice in the opioid crisis—the drug distributors. These distributors sit between the manufacturers and the pharmacies, ensuring drug supply demands are met in our state. Distributors are required by law to monitor drug shipments and be the first line of defense in controlling and monitoring the flow of dangerous drugs by identifying and reporting suspicious orders of controlled substances. The flood of opioids into Arkansas through the drug distributors followed as a result of the manufacturers’ representations that opioids were safe and not addictive. Distributors then allowed a deluge of opioids shipped into the state. These companies’ desires to reap obscene profits have needlessly turned good people into addicts, destroyed lives and families and wreaked havoc on Arkansas.
As a result, I filed a suit against opioid distributors who failed to monitor, detect, investigate, reject or report suspicious orders, which added to the widespread diversion of prescription opioids for non-medical purposes. The complaint against the drug distributors identifies three companies that flooded the state with over 236 million pills. That’s at least 78 opioid pills for every man, woman and child in the state. These companies turned a blind eye, have profited handsomely and must be held accountable for this excessive oversight.
Our work here in Arkansas has not gone unnoticed. In March, President Donald Trump recognized the important work of the attorney general’s office in the fight against opioids sweeping our state.
Unfortunately, we still have a long way to go. In June, Axiom released data that found opioid prescriptions had decreased in number, but Arkansas remains one of the slowest to reduce opioid prescriptions. While the prescriptions have slowed, those addicted to prescription opioids have turned to street drugs.
Prescription opioids, however, are not the only target of my actions. Arkansans are turning to opioid alternatives such as heroin, fentanyl and opium-laced poppy seeds. I have successfully prompted retailers such as eBay, Etsy, and Bonanza.com, among others, to remove bulk-sale poppy seeds from their online sales offerings. Unwashed poppy seeds contain poppy straw, which includes trace amounts of morphine, codeine and thebaine that is sufficient to induce the sedating effects of opioids. One Arkansan, 24-year-old Stephen Hacala, died in 2016 after ingesting so-called poppy seed tea that he made using unwashed poppy seeds purchased on Amazon.com. I have also asked the FDA and U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency to take action to limit these sales and continue to work for greater oversight and control.
As I’ve always said, Arkansas is just one big small town and seeing friends and families suffer through the unimaginable is heartbreaking, and we must all work together hand-in-hand to address this crisis. I am confident that Arkansas will soon be on the road to recovery from the painful events wrought by the manufacturers and distributors who were best situated to prevent it, yet failed to do so.
Leslie Rutledge is the 56th attorney general of Arkansas. She was sworn into office in 2015 and is the first woman and first Republican in Arkansas history to be elected to the office. She was re-elected to a second term in 2018.