LITTLE ROCK, ARK – AFMC has received a grant award totaling $200,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to help 18 rural Arkansas counties address the effects of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) on opioid misuse and opioid-overdose deaths. ACEs can include emotional or physical abuse, neglect, family instability, poverty or exposure to violence.

Nationally, Arkansas ranks as one of the worst for poverty, incarceration and access to drug abuse treatment. Arkansas also has the highest percentage of children with at least one ACE and at least one in six Arkansas children have experienced three or more ACEs. People who have had multiple ACEs are the most likely to experience problems with addiction and opioid misuse. In the targeted counties, more than 20 percent of adults have experienced four or more ACEs.

The HRSA has designated these counties as medically underserved areas. “ACEs can negatively affect children’s mental and physical health into adulthood and throughout their lives,” said Chad T. Rodgers, MD, chief medical officer of AFMC and a board-certified pediatrician. “Arkansas’ high level of ACEs goes hand-in-hand with our state’s high incidence of opioid abuse.”

In implementing the one-year Rural Arkansas Planning Taskforce for Opioid Response (RAPTOR) grant, AFMC will partner with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ (UAMS) Center for Distance Health and Unity Health. Both are experienced in providing health care services in rural areas. Funds will be used to form a consortium of statewide organizations that will plan a comprehensive approach to opioid abuse prevention, treatment and recovery. The consortium will bring together a diverse network of independent

organizations that represent health care, law enforcement, mental health, health policy quality improvement, state and county governments, education and public health.

Heretofore, Arkansas’ strategy to combat the opioid epidemic has failed to address the foundational role of ACEs in the development of opioid misuse and addiction. RAPTOR’s planning process will incorporate trauma-informed approaches into the state’s comprehensive plan and will help organizations shift from acting alone to acting as a group.

RAPTOR will educate rural health providers and communities about trauma-informed care and identify gaps in opioid use disorder (OUD) prevention, treatment and access to care. RAPTOR will complete a comprehensive data analysis report, strategic plan, workforce development plan and a sustainability plan to educate rural health providers and communities about trauma-informed care.

AFMC, a nonprofit quality-improvement education organization that has successfully developed and managed community coalitions, will provide leadership and management to the consortium. They will facilitate the process that helps organizations shift from acting alone to acting as a group.

“We are excited to work with UAMS and Unity Health to empower the organizations in these counties to stop the scourge of opioid-related damage and deaths,” said AFMC President and CEO Ray Hanley. “By addressing the underlying causes of addiction and poor access to treatment, we believe the consortium can reduce the illness and deaths associated with opioid misuse.”

UAMS’s Center for Distance Health has developed one of the largest telemedicine networks in the nation and will manage the telehealth conferencing for consortium members. Unity Health is the leading health care provider in the targeted area.

This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of an award totaling $200,000, 100 percent of which will be government funding. The contents of the grant application are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, HRSA, HHS or the U.S. government.