A local doctor says an online tool implemented by Arkansas government officials has the potential to improve opioid prescribing practices in the state.

Dr. Don Phillips, an employee at Mercy Hospital in Fort Smith and a member of the Arkansas Medical Board, said a web portal created by the Arkansas Improving Multidisciplinary Pain Care Treatment partnership will bring education to anyone who has a hand in prescribing, selling or regulating opioid painkillers in the state. He hopes the information generated will spread from the medical field to the public.

"It’s very clear that there is a lot of education needed by both patients and physicians right now — not only because of what may have been done correctly or incorrectly, but there have been a lot of things learned," Phillips said.

The portal will feature web seminars from pain and addiction treatment specialists, pharmacists, a psychologist and a physical therapist who are trained in opioid-related issues, according to a news release from the Arkansas Governor's Office. Phillips said the seminars will be archived on the website for future watching.

The portal was built by the Care Treatment partnership, which includes officials from the University of Arkansas Medical Services, the Arkansas Department of Human Services, the Medical Board, Blue Cross-Blue Shield, the Arkansas Academy of Family Physicians, the Arkansas Medical Society, the Arkansas Department of Health and the office of the state drug director, the release states. It was funded from a grant received by the office of the state drug director, as well as other sources, Phillips said.

"It is not an exaggeration to call this epidemic one of our state’s greatest challenges," Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said at a Monday press conference. "Today, we understand more about opioid drugs than we did a decade ago. With that advanced knowledge, we must utilize every tool possible to pass along this information to doctors so that we can save lives and spare more patients the tragedy of addiction.”

At 114.6 prescription painkillers per 100 people, Arkansas had the second-highest statewide prescribing rate in the country in 2016, the latest available year for data. At 169 painkillers per 100 people, Sebastian County's prescribing rate was at least 48 painkillers higher than every statewide rate in that period of time, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hutchinson called the portal "an important new weapon in the fight against this terrible epidemic that is killing hundreds of Arkansans every year."

"It is evident that a collaborative approach is necessary to change the direction of this epidemic," Drug Director Kirk Lane said at the press conference. "We will make that difference with education and the willingness to change."

Phillips said he expects doctors to learn the most recent information about opioid prescribing through the portal. He believes the portal will, by extension, "help teach the patients."

Phillips also said the portal goes hand-in-hand with prescription regulations passed by the Medical Board in April, which limit opioid prescriptions for acute pain and requires doctors to justify prescriptions exceeding more than 50 morphine milligram equivalents. He said the officials featured in the seminar will help educate doctors on how to better follow these guidelines.

“The goal is to keep the chronic pain needs as low as possible. You’re never going to get rid of all of it, but stop the conversion on the front end," he said. "That’s the only way to get in front of this and stop the new people from getting it.”

Justin Boyd, a state representative and pharmacist, believes the portal will help him and others in his field as well. He said the "long-term education" that the portal offers will ensure doctors who write the opioid prescriptions he fills "are well-equipped with the right knowledge to do the job we expect them to do."

"The primary responsibility resides in the person who writes the prescription, but the Drug Enforcement Agency also says the pharmacist has a corresponding responsibility to make sure it’s a legal and legitimate prescription," Boyd said. "The more education in the system, the more confidence the providers have, the more confidence the pharmacist would have on the other end to feel like it’s a legal and legitimate prescription.”

Locally, Phillips hopes to see the portal yield tangible results. He said he hopes the portal is one more tool Sebastian County officials can use to tackle the "huge opioid abuse problem" in the area.

"There aren’t any counties getting as organized as we are, and that’s great," he said. "This is going to be part of that education.”

People who would like to use the portal must register at www.arimpact.uams.edu, the release states.