As the Drug Director for the state of Arkansas, I have the responsibility of overseeing all state-funded substance prevention, substance treatment, and substance recovery activities and programs; advising the governor’s office on drug and alcohol policy issues; overseeing the (fiscal) funding of 19 drug task force units in Arkansas; and overseeing the Arkansas Alcohol and Drug Abuse Coordinating Council. Monitoring, securing, and disposing of unused and expired prescription medication is a major priority in my office, but it’s one of the many things our office does. The absolute top priority is to save lives, which all of our programs are designed with this as the overarching priority in mind.
There are less than a dozen states that have a structure like ours where the Drug Director, serving as the single-state-authority, is responsible for managing federal grants received to operate our programs. Grants such as the Substance Abuse Block Grant, Partnerships for Success grant, and State Opioid Response grant allows for developing prevention program activities, funding treatment providers, and building a network of Peer Support Specialists. Thanks to the support of our federal and state partners, the state of Arkansas is also now addressing substance misuse in the collegiate environment.
The collegiate prevention and recovery landscape was very different from when I attended college, and it’s changed even since I started as the Arkansas Drug Director. There are substances now that are much more potent and deadly, and even marijuana is significantly stronger in THC than even 5-10 years ago. In today’s world, there are some substances so powerful that just a one-time experience can lead to death. We are trying to educate not only the students, but also all university staff and employees.
Another issue on universities is that for too long, the majority of higher education leaders didn’t want to bring attention to substance misuse on their campuses. Rather than address the issue head on, many institutions preferred to downplay substance misuse issues with deniability or respond that most issues occur off campus. Addressing the issue directly and admitting there are substance misuse issues on campus might put the institution in a negative light, and as a result, students would be deterred from attending their institutions.
For a couple of reasons, the college environment is an unfortunate perfect storm when it comes to substance misuse.
- Freedom – Many students, for the first time, are venturing out on their own. They spent the majority of their life with the guidance of their parents or guardian, but also being held accountable to their parents. Now the students are learning to hold their own selves accountable and learning to be self-disciplined.
- Discovery – With freedom comes the opportunity for discovery. College is the perfect place for students to broaden their horizon and discover new things. Discovering new friendships, new extracurricular activities, and new hobbies. Unfortunately, this is historically a time when many students experiment with various substances.
How do we face this challenge? First, prevention is the key element. A student’s future is immediately damaged the first time they use because it doesn’t take much for them to become “hooked” or dependent on the substance. When a student misuses a substance, it creates a domino effect, in which they eventually become so reliant on a substance that everything else around them fades. Grades begin to fade, extracurricular involvement fades, and even relationships with family and friends fade. Hundreds of lives are lost every year due to substance misuse. Families lives are forever changed when they lose someone to a drug overdose. But all of this can be prevented. If you prevent, then you don’t have to treat, and if you don’t have to treat, you don’t have to enter recovery.
Students have to look at the bigger picture beyond the two-four years they expect to spend in college. College students are our next leaders, our next employers, employees, and parents. They are also the biggest influence on the younger generation. High school students and younger often look at college students as mentors and symbols of what they want to become. It is vital that college students recognize that influence and be responsible with that influence in a positive manner. It’s important for college students to lead the charge to change the status quo and image of what student life is all about. We can change the perfect storm of substance misuse, which leads to addiction and/or death, and change the perfect storm to incorporate prevention concepts into those students and have them lead the charge.
Seven months ago, Arkansas took a big step forward by creating the Arkansas Collegiate Network, which was created to be a coalition that encourages and empowers universities to address substance misuse directly. Previous collegiate efforts to address substance misuse included demanding and commanding language, but today, it’s about listening and delivering.
As ACN has been working through the Strategic Prevention Framework, we’ve uncovered many issues. The biggest and most prevalent issue is that many institutions lack the necessary resources to address substance misuse. This might be due to a lack of collaborative partnerships with community and statewide resources or lack of funding. ACN was created to assist institutions with obtaining resources they need and connect them with partners in their community, as well as across the state.
Since the inception of ACN, the stigma of substance misuse and universities’ responses are changing. University leaders are realizing the seriousness of the issues and how widespread it has evolved. Universities want to advertise to parents that they are a safe campus, and many colleges in other states have Collegiate Recovery Programs, which are attractive to parents.
One of the main goals of ACN is to have Collegiate Recovery Programs and similar programs on every university in the state. Helping students in recovery pursue higher education does nothing but good things for all parties involved. Students who may never have been able to experience college due to the high prevalence of substance misuse will be able to do so with their peers in a Collegiate Recovery Program. Colleges will be able to fill up unused dormitories with sober living facilities through a Collegiate Recovery Program. Just recently one of our institutions, the University of Arkansas, hosted a few sober tailgates with their collegiate recovery community. Thanks to the Collegiate Recovery Program, these students in recovery were able to enjoy the game day experience free of drugs and/or alcohol.
Another goal is to have naloxone kits and naloxone training available at every college campus. Naloxone is an opioid antagonist used to reverse the effects of an opioid-induced overdose. Though it should be used only in an emergency, naloxone has no effect on non-opioid overdoses. More than 500 lives in Arkansas have been saved the past couple of years through the Arkansas Naloxone Project, which has distributed thousands of naloxone kits to first responders, and recently to public school nurses. How many more lives could be saved by simply having naloxone available at every institution of higher learning across the state? Several college police department officers are equipped and trained with naloxone, but we need take it a step further. We need to equip and train resident assistants and other staff with naloxone.
To help reach this goal, the NARCANsas phone app was created, which is available for free download. It is an opioid overdose resource containing tools to assist people with the administration of naloxone and provides steps on how to save a person’s life in the event of an opioid overdose.
Students attending institutions of higher education will be the leaders of tomorrow. They are our next CEOs and presidents, doctors, nurses, scientists, elected officials, and even advocates for substance misuse prevention and recovery! We’ve got to do everything in our power to prevent young adults from using substances in the first place. We need to do more than just giving presentations on the statistics and passing out free promotional items. If you want to prevent substance misuse, you’ve got to make it heartfelt. Empower people in recovery to share their stories. Have them tell others about the journey they’ve been on, and the positives that have come because of being substance free. They should also embrace and share the reality and difficulties they’ve gone through as well. Students today need to realize the mistakes of today can cause hardships in the future and some mistakes can never be corrected, which can include death. To solve the issue of substance misuse in higher education, we must stop talking and start listening. It’s going to take a generation to save a generation.
Kirk Lane was appointed as Arkansas’s Drug Director by Governor Asa Hutchinson on August 7, 2017. Prior to the appointment, Director Lane served as chief of police for the City of Benton, Arkansas. Director Lane began his law enforcement career in 1982. In 1986, he went to work for the Pulaski County Sheriff’s Office for 22 years rising to the rank of captain. In January 2009, he was appointed the chief of police of the Benton Police Department until his retirement in August 2017. He attended the University of Virginia and University of Arkansas-Little Rock. He is a graduate of the Arkansas Law Enforcement Academy, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Drug Commanders Academy, FBI LEEDA, and the FBI National Academy 197th session.
Director Lane has served on the board of the Criminal Justice Institute and represented Arkansas for the Regional Organized Crime Information Center. He also was the Chairman of the Arkansas Chief’s Association Legislative Committee. Director Lane currently serves as the Chairperson of the Arkansas Alcohol and Drug Coordinating Council; serves on the Arkansas Prescription Monitoring Program Advisory Board; and the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America. He is an active member of the Arkansas State Working Group for Prescription Drug Abuse Prevention and received the 2012 Marie Interfaith Leadership Award for his work in this area.