While opioid prescribing in Sebastian County has gone down in recent history, the latest data shows the county has seen a moderate spike in drug overdose deaths.

Sebastian County in 2018 has 18 drug overdose deaths — three more than the year before, according to the Arkansas Department of Health. These numbers have risen at a time when drug overdose deaths — an estimated two-thirds of which are from opioids — have eclipsed the number of homicides in Arkansas, said Criminal Justice Institute Director Cheryl May on Friday at the Sebastian County Opioid Summit.

While Sebastian County in the latest years for data has had more opioid prescriptions than people, the numbers have gone down. According to Prescription Drug Monitoring Program data, Sebastian County averages 102.1 opioid prescriptions per 100 people. Centers for Disease Control estimated 169 per 100 in 2016 and 153.1 in 2017.

"Our prescribing rate in Arkansas is twice the national average," May said.

May said a high number of opioid overdose deaths are from heroin and the synthetic opioid fentanyl, which is sometimes used to increase the potency of heroin. Twelfth and 21st District Drug Task Force Director Paul Smith said task force members have made more heroin arrests in the past year and a half than in the 25 years before that. Three out of every four people who have used heroin in the past year began misusing prescription opioids first, according to Centers.

Sebastian and Crawford counties with northwest Arkansas have become a "secondary cluster" of drug overdose deaths behind central Arkansas, May said. Crawford County in 2018 had 13 drug overdose deaths, up from nine the year before.

Roughly 72,000 people in the United States die from a drug overdose each year, May said. This averages out to about 130 people each day who die from an opioid overdose.

"If a plane crashed every day with 192 or 130 people on that plane, we would be completely outraged," May said.

Even though the number of deaths has risen, May was encouraged by steps local law enforcement agencies have taken in reference to the problem. She gave the example of naloxone, which was given to roughly 200 first responders in Sebastian County in 2018.

Sebastian County EMS used naloxone approximately 121 times in 2017, according to Arkansas Drug Director's office records.

"Why (naloxone) has be come so incredibly popular with first responders is because if you think somebody is overdosing, you can go ahead and give them the naloxone. It is not going to hurt them if it turns out that they aren't having an opioid overdose," she said.

May also said Sebastian County has been "trying to take the bull by the horns" by educating the public about the dangers of opioids. But even with that, she told the audience to remain vigilant in their response to the abuse.

Sebastian County Sheriff Hobe Runion specifically pointed to law enforcement, medical and pharmaceutical personnel in the fight against opioid abuse.

"Each of us has a role in combating this sickness," he said.