Dr. Aaron Novotny
Director of Healthcare Economics
Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield
While it can be a difficult topic to discuss, substance use disorders can have an overwhelmingly negative impact on individuals, our communities, and our workplaces. To best support recovery and combat this epidemic, it’s important that we first understand the current landscape.
Substance use disorders occur when the frequent use of substances causes clinically significant impairment, including health problems, disability, and failure to meet major responsibilities at work, school, or home. Substance use disorders can stem from alcohol, illegal drugs, and medications such as opioids, stimulants, and sedatives. These disorders can interfere with relationships between the user and their loved ones, making it even more difficult for users to seek help. For these reasons, we cannot underestimate the dangers of substance dependence.
The State of Substance Use Disorders in Arkansas
The impact of substance use disorders can be felt both nationally and right here in Arkansas. Provisional data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics indicate there were an estimated 107,622 drug overdose deaths in the United States in 2021, an increase of nearly 15% from the 93,655 deaths estimated in 2020. Here in Arkansas, provisional data from the Arkansas Department of Health (ADH) Vital Statistics showed that in 2021 there were 546 drug overdose deaths in Arkansas, and that’s 546 too many. More recently, a report revealed Arkansas drug deaths grew over 16% in the past year. It’s an unsettling trend, likely exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Men, women, older adults, and teens across all states can potentially fall victim to substance use disorders. In fact, around 5% of people in Arkansas ages 12 and older have an alcohol use disorder and around 7% have some type of substance use disorder. And with many individuals having reported a mental illness even before the pandemic, it is imperative to watch for the signs of someone with a substance dependence. Because, in times of adversity, some people cope by turning to substance use, which may lead to substance use disorder.
How to Identify Symptoms of Substance Abuse or Dependence
Understanding the signs and symptoms of substance use disorder, especially early on, can be essential in getting people the help and treatment they need before the consequences become disastrous. The following are some key ways to identify if someone may be struggling with a drug dependence.
- Missing work, school, or other important events or engagements
- Social withdrawal, isolation, or secretiveness about whereabouts and activities
- Sudden, unexplained spending habits or financial problems
- Offering strange excuses, justifications, and rationalizations for their negative behavior
- Acting inappropriately, or obnoxious and childish
- Irritability and argumentativeness
- Appears easily confused
How We’re Supporting Arkansans
We understand that supportive environments reduce negative health outcomes and the risk of relapse, which is why we want to create safe and judgement-free spaces for those who may not have access to them. Below are some ways Arkansas Blue Cross is actively helping to combat substance use disorders across Arkansas:
- Together Arkansas: The Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce joined forces with Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield and AFMC to provide employers with a toolkit of resourcesthey can use to help prepare, prevent, and respond to this crisis.
- Normalize the Conversation: Eliminating the stigmas associated with substance use is an important step we must take to start the necessary conversations. We support UAMS Health’s AR ConnectNow, which makes care more accessible by providing mental health support 24/7 with no insurance or appointment needed.
Drug addiction is frightening and stressful for people suffering from substance use disorders and their loved ones, but help is available. You can, and should, talk to your doctor should you exhibit signs of substance use disorder to see what help is available.
Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield members can utilize our case management team, which is a powerful tool available to support members and their families as they navigate the healthcare system. We also have a behavioral health team of registered nurses, social workers and a peer support specialist who can help connect members to community resources and help navigate care. Call the number on the back of your card to speak with a case manager or behavioral health team member. Learn more at arkansasbluecross.com/bh.
If you or someone you know is dealing with substance use dependence, you can also contact 501-526-3563 or 800-482-9921. The call center is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Let’s take good care of one another so that we can create a healthier Arkansas.