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Mak­ing a dif­fer­ence Sub­stance abuse spe­cial­ist fo­cused on preven­tion, not in­ter­ven­tion

The Sentinel-Record - HER - Hot Springs - - CONTENTS - Story by Lindsey Wells, pho­tog­ra­phy by Mara Kuhn

While sub­stance abuse con­tin­ues to be a pan­demic in the United States, CHI St. Vincent Hot Springs is at­tempt­ing to ef­fec­tively pre­vent the prob­lem from wors­en­ing with its re­cent hir­ing of Lind­say Mulkey, Hot Springs’ first sub­stance use preven­tion spe­cial­ist.

Mulkey has more than a decade of ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with youth and com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions, and said she’s al­ways been drawn to­ward work­ing with chil­dren. Her fo­cus is on Gar­land, Pike, Mont­gomery, Clark and Hot Spring coun­ties, and she cov­ers 19 schools within those five coun­ties.

“There’s kind of one of what I do ev­ery­where. We have re­gional preven­tion providers, so there’s 13 re­gions this state is bro­ken up into and we fo­cus on the gamut — preven­tion. ‘ Opi­oid’ is a big flash word here, and it is, it’s a big thing and it’s a grow­ing prob­lem and schools are see­ing it younger and younger. I think with CHI, our mis­sion is to serve the un­der served and the needy and the poor, but we’re not just within the walls here, so I think this is an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity to get out in the com­mu­nity and serve peo­ple,” Mulkey said.

While the term “sub­stance” in­cludes any­thing from al­co­hol, to­bacco, il­licit drugs, mar­i­juana and pre­scrip­tion drugs, Mulkey said the most preva­lent sub­stances abused among chil­dren and teenagers is al­co­hol and to­bacco, and pre­scrip­tion drugs are upand-com­ing.

Since 2000, more than 300,000 Amer­i­cans have lost their lives to an opi­oid over­dose. Arkansas con­trib­uted to that statistic, hav­ing the 25th high­est death rate in the coun­try in 2016. An­other study re­leased in Au­gust es­ti­mates that 2 mil­lion peo­ple in the U.S. have an opi­oid use dis­or­der, or are ad­dicted to pre­scrip­tion opi­oids.

Stop­ping the prob­lem be­fore it starts is Mulkey’s mis­sion.

She said that when the news broke of her new po­si­tion at CHI, peo­ple thought she would ac­tu­ally be see­ing pa­tients, but that isn’t the case. Her po­si­tion is more com­mu­nity-fo­cused.

She fo­cuses on work­ing in the schools and col­lab­o­rat­ing with ex­ist­ing anti- drug abuse coali­tions and task forces and shares ev­i­dence-based best prac­tices and ma­te­ri­als with groups and in­di­vid­u­als in the re­gion.

One of these is the APNA, or the Arkansas Preven­tion Needs As­sess­ment Sur­vey, which is ad­min­is­tered to stu­dents.

“My big fo­cus is where we can get ahead of this. With the APNA sur­vey, it sur­veys the sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades ev­ery year. It’s a mil­lion ques­tions, and God love these kids, it’s rough on them, but it re­ally helps us pin­point where the is­sues are. You’ll see huge jumps from like sixth grade, where they’re say­ing they’ve never touched a cig­a­rette, and then you’ll see this big jump to eighth grade, and that helps us to say, ‘ So there’s some­thing going on in sev­enth grade.’ We can con­nect and build what works with that school,” Mulkey said.

“So, Foun­tain Lake is this amaz­ing pro­ject-based school, and what works for you may not work for Lake side may not work for Mount Ida. We can tai­lor it to them. I love kids and be­ing able to see what their prob­lems are, and I hate to say ‘prob­lems’ or ‘ is­sues’ be­cause it sounds re­ally neg­a­tive, but it helps us to see what is­sues or ob­sta­cles they’re fac­ing that we can help steer them around. It re­ally helps pin­point things.”

Mulkey said the prob­lem with sub­stances be­gins “when you cross that line into abuse.” “I will drink a glass of red wine. We’ve all been there, done that, but it’s when you cross that line. That’s where you want to teach peo­ple — not just kids — how to be healthy. Pre­scrip­tions are great if you’re us­ing them the way they’re in­tended,” she said.

Mulkey said out of the five coun­ties she cov­ers, Gar­land is ranked the worst for sub­stance abuse.

“We were in the top 10 in the state for pre­scrip­tion drug abuse,” she said, adding that there were mul­ti­ple cri­te­ria.

Hav­ing oc­cu­pied the po­si­tion since Au­gust 2017, Mulkey has al­ready launched a col­lab­o­ra­tive ef­fort with Gar­land County law en­force­ment agen­cies, en­cour­ag­ing area res­i­dents to safely de­stroy their un­wanted and un­used med­i­ca­tions. The ini­tia­tive with the Gar­land County Sher­iff ’ s Depart­ment and Hot Springs Po­lice Depart­ment, a Bat­tle of the Badges drug take­back com­pe­ti­tion, will cul­mi­nate with next April’s na­tional drug take-back event led by the DEA.

“As pre­scrip­tion drug abuse is spot­lighted more and more, we came up with a friendly com­pe­ti­tion. I have some good con­tacts at HSPD, so I set up for theirs and Suzie set up at Gar­land County,” she said.

About 200-300 pounds of med­i­ca­tions have al­ready been col­lected since the com­pe­ti­tion be­gan.

“And it’s not just pre­scrip­tions,” Mulkey said. “If it’s ex­pired then it needs to go, you don’t need to have it sit­ting out. We went to the pre­scrip­tion drug sum­mit here with di­rec­tor Kirk Lane and they push the, ‘ Don’t let your kitchen counter or your bath­room cab­i­nets be­come the neigh­bor­hood drug dealer,’ be­cause that’s what’s going on right now. So we thought, if there’s some­thing we can do to make it fun, let’s do it. We’re re­ally try­ing to get this place cleaned up,” Mulkey added.

Though the com­pe­ti­tion is be­tween the Gar­land County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice and the Hot Springs Po­lice Depart­ment only, un­wanted med­i­ca­tions can also be dropped off at the fol­low­ing lo­ca­tions:

Arkadel­phia Po­lice Dept.

514 Clay St., Arkadel­phia

Mont­gomery County Sher­iff’s Of­fice

Oua­chita Na­tional For­est 105 US 270 Mount Ida Gar­land County Sher­iff ’s Depart­ment 525 Oua­chita Ave., Hot Springs Hot Springs Po­lice Depart­ment 641 Malvern Ave., Hot Springs Hot Springs Vil­lage Po­lice Depart­ment 113 Calella Rd., Hot Springs Vil­lage

Wal­greens on Cen­tral Av­enue

3631 Cen­tral Ave., Hot Springs

Malvern Po­lice Depart­ment/ Hot Spring County Sher­iff’s Of­fice

215 E. High­land Ave., Malvern “For the con­test, if they want to ‘ vote’ for their fa­vorite depart­ment they would take it to one or the other, but any­time, if you feel un­com­fort­able hav­ing some­thing, get rid of it,” Mulkey added.

When asked what she hopes to ac­com­plish in this po­si­tion, Mulkey said, “I want to see true preven­tion, not in­ter­ven­tion.”

“We re­ally want to ed­u­cate peo­ple. I talked to some­one about this a cou­ple days ago, the per­cep­tion of harm, and when you lis­ten to kids, they just don’t get it. They think, ‘Pre­scrip­tion drugs are from a doc­tor so it’s OK for me to take them.’ We re­ally want to ed­u­cate them. For us, that’s all I can do is teach you. Every­one makes their own de­ci­sions. I think last year they said that 47 per­cent of kids in Gar­land County felt like they hadn’t been ed­u­cated on the dan­gers of to­bacco. You can’t stop it, but you can at least ed­u­cate them and hope­fully we’ll see a de­cline in all of these things,” she added. The po­ten­tial to make a dif­fer­ence is a big mo­ti­va­tor for Mulkey, she said, adding that she hasn’t had a day on the job yet where she hasn’t wanted to go to work.

“It makes me sad that I have this job, but I’m happy it’s me. It would be easy to just sit here and put stuff on the ra­dio, put stuff in a news­let­ter, host a meet­ing, but I’m not the type of per­son that wants to sit and just do the same thing. If you give me some­thing I’m going to go do it. I’m there, I’ll do it, I’m your girl.

Since 2000, more than 300,000 Amer­i­cans have lost their lives to an opi­oid over­dose. Arkansas con­trib­uted to that statistic, hav­ing the 25th high­est death rate in the coun­try in 2016.

This just worked out that I’m here,” Mulkey said.

Though this is her first time work­ing in this field, she’s no stranger to sub­stance abuse, as it touches every­one.

“Most peo­ple have been touched by sub­stance abuse. I lost a cousin — not a close cousin — to heroin over­dose. It touches your fam­ily and it touches your friends. I hope to be in this po­si­tion for a long time and, this is a beau­ti­ful thing, in five years I hope to be able to look back and say, ‘ Oh, I’ve made a dif­fer­ence,’” said Mulkey.

When she isn’t work­ing, Mulkey spends her time with her hus­band, Aaron, and their three chil­dren.

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