Substance abuse specialist focused on prevention, not intervention
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 up-and-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 Lakeside 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 take-back 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. 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.