- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Southwest Times Record. Feb. 19, 2018.

Opioid abuse is at epidemic levels and has been for quite some time, and the reports coming out of Sebastian County and other parts of our region are disturbing. Our recent series examining opioid abuse in our area, which concludes today, offered up some very eye-opening figures and serves to renew our call for more to be done. Local efforts are being made, but we need national leaders to be more dedicated to solving a crisis. In October, President Donald Trump declared opioid abuse a “national health emergency,” but what has been done since that time? With opioid deaths and arrests steadily rising, the answer is simple: not enough.

Prescription drugs have become the drugs of choice on the streets, according to the Sebastian County sheriff. And our local numbers are high compared with what’s going on in the rest of the state. It’s bad everywhere, we know that; but it’s particularly bad in this area. At 154.6 per 100,000 people, Sebastian County led Arkansas in arrests for selling, manufacturing or possessing opioids from 2011-15, according to county arrest records. The county averaged 277.8 arrests for possession of Schedule I or II opioids per 100,000 people in 2017. Sebastian County was near the top of Arkansas for several opioid-related issues, including painkiller prescribing and drug overdose death rates, according to the latest available numbers.

But more must be done on a federal level, both by our leaders in government and by the pharmaceutical companies responsible for putting opioids out into the market. People are already addicted, so it’s too late to tell them not to get hooked in the first place. We need new strategies to take on the problem, including getting abusers into treatment programs rather than prisons. We need funding for education and treatment programs. We need more drug courts and more efforts to limit opioid prescriptions while offering alternatives for pain treatment, including the use of non-opioid medication and exercise.

Local officials say such a presence of opioids in Sebastian County worsen issues that they have dealt with for years. “All of society is paying for this,” Sebastian County Sheriff Bill Hollenbeck said recently, and he’s correct. Drug abuse tends to create a trickle-down effect, where problems develop in other areas, from jail overcrowding to off-the-charts foster care numbers. The county jail, which contains 356 beds for inmates, saw an inmate population that exceeded 500 at times in 2017. More than 800 children were in the local foster-care system at the end of 2017.

These problems aren’t going away on their own and should be alarming to the local community. At the recent Crawford County Opioid Education Summit, Arkansas Drug Director Kirk Lane called opioid abuse “a problem that’s growing very quickly and moving into the state very quickly.” Clearly, the numbers in our area back up this assertion.

The emotional toll from opioid abuse is difficult to measure, however. Foster children from the area are taken all over the state because there isn’t enough room for them here. Addicts may turn to burglary or robbery to support their habit. Local doctors and nurses deal with patients going through withdrawal.

The people who are addicted are not your typical “addict,” local experts say. “These are kids, these are adults, these are the elderly. People of all socio-economic statuses, all demographics. It’s all-encompassing. It’s not junkies,” Allison Montiel, community health education coordinator at Mercy Hospital in Fort Smith, said recently. It’s people who are prescribed painkillers for one reason or another who then can’t get off them.

Our area leaders, in many ways, have said it must stop. One effort is a lawsuit against opioid manufacturers and distributors, which now includes 70 of Arkansas’ 75 county governments. Its intent is to “hold accountable the nation’s leading pharmaceutical companies over their misleading and deceptive marketing of prescription opioid painkillers,” according to the Association of Arkansas Counties, the Arkansas Municipal League and the Arkansas Public Entities Risk Management Association. The lawsuit aims to bring together county judges, sheriffs, mayors, fire chiefs, police chiefs, coroners and first responders in addressing opioid abuse, the groups say. In Oklahoma, the Cherokee Nation has filed its own lawsuit.

In addition, Hollenbeck has organized a group of area medical, pharmaceutical and law enforcement officials to form an opioid task force, which will meet in March. The group will focus on new opioid users in an effort to prevent them from falling into a pattern of abuse.

Officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration have proposed cutting the amount of controlled substances to be manufactured in 2018 by 20 percent compared with 2017. Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, recently said it will no longer tout the drug or any other opioids to doctors. That’s a start. Companies and national groups must be part of the solution, and acknowledging the problem is out of hand is the first step. Now, others must follow suit.

We applaud local efforts to fight the opioid crisis head-on. But it will take more than just local efforts to make a real difference. The problem is just too big for a few dedicated local officials to solve on their own. The nationwide effort must run through Sebastian County and other parts of our region. This crisis continues to affect too many people, and we can’t let our communities continue to pay the price.

___

Texarkana Gazette. Feb. 19, 2018.

Monday was Presidents Day.

The day was especially significant this year because last week was the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of our nation’s most beloved chief executives, President Abraham Lincoln.

We honor Lincoln’s memory, as we honor all of the Americans who have occupied the Oval Office. One wonders, though, how Lincoln or any of the other revered presidents from the past - Washington, Adams, Jefferson and others - would fare in today’s world of talk radio, blogs and other assorted blather.

In the past, Americans respected the office of the presidency. Some may not have agreed with the president in office at the time. Some might not even have liked him very much. But there was a respect for the office itself

That respect was reflected in the press and the Congress. There was a sort of unspoken agreement in those days. The press kept quiet about personal indiscretions. Representatives and Senators from both parties protected one another’s backs.

The people, as well, felt a patriotic duty to speak respectfully of the president, even when they disagreed with what he was doing. Overall, the arrangement was considered good for the country. And it worked pretty well.

Things started changing with President Lyndon Johnson and the Vietnam War. Every president has had his critics, but because of the war’s unpopularity and the fact that television cameras broadcast the jeers and protests around the country - and the world - it became open season on his administration.

President Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal further damaged the presidency. Nixon’s resignation in disgrace amid allegations of his involvement in the cover-up of illegal activities by his aides was a deep blow to the credibility of the office.

Things only got worse. Along with newspapers, magazines and television, talk radio emerged as a popular medium. It thrived on attack journalism. About the same time, any remnants of a “gentleman’s agreement’ among members of the House and Senate vanished and the two major political parties went to war with each other. The party without a president in power extended the war to the White House.

Now, we have the internet and instant worldwide access not only to news, but to scandal, rumor, hearsay and innuendo. The nation has divided along red and blue lines and there is little respect shown by about half the people at any given time for the sitting president.

And that’s too bad. Where once we had civil disagreement - for the most part - now we have an abundance of bitterness, rancor and disdain.

But Monday - at least this one day - was meant to put aside modern bad manners and join together as Americans to remember the men who have, in good times and bad, led this nation and preserved our republic for more than two centuries.

___

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Feb. 20, 2018.

The rain falling on central Arkansas Saturday morning was relentless. And chilly. A workout enthusiast we know watched a sizable group of runners trot past the window of the gym where she was doing the same thing on a treadmill, minus the rain. Those runners looked pretty miserable.

Sure, the temperature was reported to be near 50 degrees, but a drenching, steady rain means wet feet (even neoprene socks can’t repel every bit of moisture), and rain-repellent jackets and tights seldom cover every inch of a vulnerable human body (hands are particularly susceptible to becoming numb when water invades those supposedly waterproof gloves).

But the Little Rock marathon is less than two weeks away - it’s happening March 4 - and this is no time for those training for the 26.2-mile challenge to sleep in. The official training schedule on the Little Rock Marathon’s website recommended the following mileage schedule for last week: Monday-4. Tuesday-6. Wednesday-off. Thursday-3. Friday-off. Saturday-20. Sunday-off.

That’s a total of 33 miles. Blowing off those 20 miles on a drippy, dismal Saturday might have been tempting, but it won’t help in getting across the March 4 finish line in a respectable time. And besides, many runners train in groups like the one observed from the comfort of a treadmill inside a gym, so failure to show up on a rainy day could bring about unwanted peer pressure from the cohort.

Hang in there, runners. The training program tapers down to a weekly total of 26 miles this week, 15 miles for the week ending Feb. 25, and a mere 9 miles the week of the marathon. You’re almost there. Don’t let the excitable late-winter weather get you down. And good luck!


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