Governor Hutchinson announced this morning a free, online continuing education program for health care providers intended to help reduce Arkansas’s unusually high rates of opioid prescriptions.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences will run the program, called AR-IMPACT (Arkansas Improving Multidisciplinary Pain Care Treatment). It will be funded by Blue Cross and Blue Shield — the state’s largest insurer — and the office of the state drug director.


In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Arkansas ranked second in the nation for per capital opioid prescriptions, at 115 per 100 residents. (That fact was cited by Attorney General Leslie Rutledge in her March announcement of a lawsuit against pharmaceutical companies for their part in helping to create the national opioid epidemic.) State Drug Director Kirk Lane said today the 2017 rate has gone down slightly, to about 108 prescriptions per 100 residents.

The state has already rolled out efforts to fight the overprescription problem, Hutchinson noted, including a mandatory prescription drug monitoring program and prescription guidelines from the State Medical Board. But, he said, “much of this is about prescriber education … How much to prescribe, how to watch it, how to be careful about it, to minimize the chance of abuse.”


To that end, UAMS is launching a program of weekly lunchtime teleconferences that aim to educate doctors on how to better manage chronic patient pain while reducing the risk of addiction. Dr. Richard Smith, the medical director of the Drug and Misuse and Injury Prevention Branch at UAMS, said participation will count toward doctors’ requisite annual 20 hours of continuing education.

“Prescribers attend a weekly conference from their clinic, home or office, and a team of specialists present the latest multidisciplinary pain management approaches to approve patient outcomes in functioning, as well as to reduce opioid abuse,” Smith said.


Here’s UAMS’ web portal for the AR-IMPACT program.

Here’s today’s press release:

Governor Hutchinson Launches Educational Web Portal To Aid In Fight Against Opioid Abuse

LITTLE ROCK – In the ongoing fight against the abuse of opioids, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences has launched a free weekly education and consultation service for Arkansas health-care providers, Governor Asa Hutchinson announced at a press conference today.

The AR-IMPACT (Arkansas Improving Multidisciplinary Pain Care Treatment) partnership includes the UAMS, the Office of the State Drug Director, the Arkansas Department of Health, the Arkansas Department of Human Services, the Arkansas State Medical Board, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, the Arkansas Medical Society and the Arkansas Academy of Family Physicians.

“This education portal for doctors is an important new weapon in the fight against this terrible epidemic that is killing hundreds of Arkansans every year,” Governor Hutchinson said. “It is not an exaggeration to call this epidemic one of our state’s greatest challenges. Today we understand more about opioid drugs than we did a decade ago. With that advanced knowledge, we must utilize every tool possible to pass along this information to doctors so that we can save lives and spare more patients the tragedy of addiction.”

AR-IMPACT will provide weekly seminars at noon on Wednesdays that feature specialists in the treatment of pain and addiction, a physical therapist, a psychologist, and pharmacists who are trained in opioid-related issues. After the presentation, doctors may join via teleconference to discuss cases for individualized feedback about approaches to treatment.

The 16 professionals in the opioid-epidemic crisis who joined the governor at the press conference at the state capitol included UAMS Interim Chancellor Stephanie Gardner, who accepted a $104,000 check from Blue-Cross-Blue Shield.

“We are thankful to Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield for their partnership as we work to improve pain management in Arkansas through UAMS AR-IMPACT,” Chancellor Gardner said. “As the state’s only health sciences university, UAMS is uniquely positioned to address this issue head on for the betterment of all Arkansans.”

Curtis Barnett, president and CEO of Arkansas Blue Cross, presented the check.

“Arkansas Blue Cross recognizes that the opioid epidemic threatens the health of the people of Arkansas in many ways,” President Barnett said. “For those in chronic pain and for those treating them, there is no easy solution. We already have been working with health-care providers to help get a better understanding of opioid prescribing patterns in Arkansas. We believe the new AR-IMPACT education program with UAMS will help doctors learn about resources and alternatives to managing pain. It will take everyone working together to truly impact this crisis.”

Kirk Lane, Director of the State Drug Office, said the epidemic is a priority.

“As drug director, I’ve talked with so many families who have been impacted, and it is clear that this crisis respects no class, race or income boundaries,” Director Lane said. “It is evident that a collaborative approach is necessary to change the direction of this epidemic. We will make that difference with education and the willingness to change.”