LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV)
More than 47,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2014. Arkansas contributes to this statistic, having the 25th highest death rate in the country.
Although Arkansas isn't high on the country's watch list for heroin, as prescription drug abuse gets worse, leaders fear heroin abuse could grow.
Albert Speed had a bright future ahead of him.
“He had the second highest PSAT scores at Central High. He wanted to go to Columbia University and major in engineering,” said Gary Speed, who had a son who loved every thing that makes Arkansas "natural,” that’s until an addiction took over.
“He lost his zest for life,” said Speed, “There's nothing worse in a parent's life than to find out that their child is dead.”
Albert Speed died at 18-year-old in 2006 to a prescription drug overdose.
“The combination of the Methadone and Xanax essentially shut down his respiratory system, and he suffocated,” said Speed.
Fifteen months before his death, Speed found marijuana in Albert's car and confiscated it.
“He got really mad at me and decided he was leaving and he left my house, and I realized then I had a real problem,” said Speed.
His son's anger and lack of enthusiasm were warning signs he was abusing more than just pot.
“Be honest with yourself. Don't be in denial,” said Speed.
An addiction like Albert's all too familiar in Arkansas, with 400 overdose deaths a year happening here.
“It tells you we're having more than 1 a day on average,” said John Kirtley, director of Arkansas’ Pharmaceutical Board.
Kirtley says pill abuse is obvious when they see how many medicines are turned in as part of their Drug Take Back Program.
Arkansas' Drug Take Back Program is very successful collecting more than 25,000 pounds of prescription drugs just last April. However, the pharmaceutical board says this success is scary with Arkansas having significantly more prescription drugs than their neighboring states of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.
“We keep repeating this every 6 months. That's how many prescription drugs there are in the state of Arkansas,” said Kirtley.
The sale of opioids in Arkansas is 25% higher than the national average, according to the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement.
“They can become addicted to what everybody thinks is very safe because a doctor prescribed it,” said Matthew Barden, Special Agent with the DEA.
Barden says prescription abuse can lead to harder drugs like heroin.
In 2001, Arkansas State Crime Lab recorded 8 cases of heroin.
So far in 2016, there's been 63 cases, with the year only half way over.
“So many of the people who are addicted to heroin and the opioids will tell you that they first got hooked on pain medication,” said Barden.
Just like addiction to heroin can start early with pain pills, prevention can starts early with education.
“When I look at my 12 year old daughter, I think she's too young to talk to about drug abuse, but what you find in reading these statistics is, she's actually old enough where I should have already started,” said Kirtley.
A simple talk that could give Arkansas' future…a future.
“He gave it all up for some pills. It was just a total waste. He gave up his dreams,” said Speed.