• Beyond Opioids Turns One



    SEPTEMBER 2021


    Over 500 Arkansans Impacted by Substance Use Disorder Received Legal Help During Beyond Opioids’ First Year

    Rogers, AR - One year ago, the Center for Arkansas Legal Services and Legal Aid of Arkansas launched the Beyond Opioids Project, a statewide initiative to provide individuals and families impacted by substance use disorder (SUD) with a free civil legal aid attorney. The Beyond Opioids Project has made a large impact in the Arkansas community its first year and plans on further expanding to change the landscape surrounding how SUD is viewed in Arkansas and especially in the legal community in its second year.


    In its first year, the Beyond Opioids Project has served over 500 low-income Arkansans. It has built a network of state agencies, nonprofits, law enforcement and healthcare providers who serve as referral resources and provide treatment and recovery support services to our legal clients. These Arkansans face diverse civil legal issues that stem from familial dysfunction, environmental and financial instability and the disease that is SUD. Integrating civil legal support into a client's treatment, recovery, and prevention journey is a crucial step in getting their lives back and making their families whole again.


    As the project begins its second year, Beyond Opioids will continue to provide essential legal services to vulnerable families struggling with SUD. Beyond Opioids has partnered with the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to help reduce the number of children entering foster care and the Arkansas Division of Corrections (ACC) to reduce the impact of supervision on those eligible for early release, as well as the Office of the Drug Director in designing innovative service delivery models to expand medication assisted treatment in rural areas with the support of peer recovery specialists and civil attorneys.


    Beyond Opioids continues its fight against stigma, a major barrier to care and recovery. SUD is a public health issue that has greatly impacted the state of Arkansas. This stigma has prevented many from seeking help towards recovery, has hindered families from finding support through the loss of family members to overdose and has created an unjust system that perpetuates interaction with the criminal justice system. More importantly, stigma has allowed practitioners in the medical and legal fields to deny services to people with SUD without any consequences, resulting in fatal and non-fatal overdoses, leaving tens of thousands of families in silent devastation.


    At the Overdose Awareness Day event in Little Rock, Arkansas on August 31, 2021, hosted by the Hope Movement Coalition and the Parker Gill Foundation, those in active recovery or those who have lost a loved one to the disease gathered to share their memories, speak openly about their journey and find support in the community. Michelle Atchison was in attendance. One of her sons, Blake, is in active recovery, but her other son, Austin, lost his life to overdose in 2018. She spoke about her family’s struggle with the disease and the stigma they faced by having two sons with addiction. “I am in law enforcement. This can’t happen to me. This cannot happen to me, right? That’s the bubble we live in. I had to pop that bubble… When Austin passed away in June ‘18, my family and I decided that it was for the best of our family, and our family’s name, to hide that [he died of overdose]. We told everyone he died of a heart attack at 24 years old. Do you know how stupid we looked?” “…I don’t want another family to go through what we have gone through as a family. Wake up. We have to change the stigma. We have to do something about this.” “…You can’t get help if you don’t speak out.”


    As September marks National Recovery Awareness Month and the start of the project’s second year, the Beyond Opioids Project is focusing on fighting the prevalent stigma against SUD in the medical and legal communities. Beyond Opioids is prioritizing helping people with SUD through innovative projects that will make research driven medical treatments for SUD normalized and accessible to all people across the state of Arkansas, especially for those in low-income, rural communities. For Recovery Month specifically, the Center for Arkansas Legal Services has been providing a legal helpdesk to the rural communities who have less access to legal representation. Legal Aid of Arkansas has begun their pilot program with Arkansas Division of Corrections to assist eligible probationers and parolees with receiving early release, which will help them on their road to recovery.


    This announcement is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $2 million with 100 percentage funded by HRSA/HHS and no amount or percentage funded by nongovernment source(s). The contents 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.


    To apply for civil legal assistance, call the Beyond Opioids VIP Helpline at (479) 239-9048.

    All substance use disorder (SUD) service providers in Arkansas are welcome and strongly encouraged to refer their patients and clients to Beyond Opioids who need but can’t afford an attorney in civil matters. Visit www.BeyondOpioids.org to complete the referral form for a client or for more information about the project.


    For more information about the Beyond Opioids Project or to become a partner, contact Helen Gratil, project director, at hgratil@arkansaslegalservivces.org and (479) 326-7027.