Researchers are looking into why opioids have hit rural America so hard and to understand the impact the opioid epidemic is having. Meanwhile, preventative guidelines and measures are in place to try to restrain the outbreak.
The opioid epidemic has taken on a more immense role in rural America. There are abundant reasons why the opioid epidemic remains unyielding in these regions. Bloomberg reports that one startling statistic is the increasing number of babies born with opioid dependence in rural America.
There is no mistaking that this epidemic is still gaining ground in metro areas. However, the people living in rural areas deal with different challenges than those who live in cities. More education and resources are needed to fight the onslaught of the opioid epidemic in rural areas.
Opioid Epidemic in Country vs. City
Both rural and metro areas are confronting the opioid epidemic. The main difference is that the epidemic is having a greater impact on rural communities. Tom Vilsack, former Secretary of Agriculture, discussed this problem in an interview with NPR Illinois.
“It’s not a fundamentally rural problem,” Vilsack said. “But it’s a unique problem in rural America because of the lack of treatment capacity and facilities.”
Statistics show the difference between rural and metro areas when it comes to opioid abuse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2017, drug overdose fatalities due to opioids rose to 4.9 people per 100,000 in the rural areas. In metro areas, the rate was 4.3 people per 100,000 residents. During the same time, metro areas reported a less than 400 percent rise in opioid deaths. Rural areas saw an increase of more than 700 percent.
According to the University of Nebraska Medical Center, the opioid epidemic in rural communities is mostly due to prescription drug use. Approximately 74 percent of farmers and farm workers have reported being affected by opioid use disorder. Further escalating the matter, residents in rural areas find it easier to obtain large amounts of prescription opioids.
Rural communities also lack the support systems available in cities. There are fewer clinics and hospitals in rural areas. There are also limited drug treatment and mental health facilities, as well as a scarcity of prevention and harm-reduction programs. A shortage of jobs and an eroding family support system adds further stress to rural residents. And while some dream of living the small-town life, according to the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire, anonymity is almost non-existent for many residents because of the smaller community sizes in rural areas. This causes many people to stop drug treatment or avoid it altogether.
The Carsey School of Public Policy also finds that the sharing, trading and selling of prescription opioids is prevalent in many rural areas where job opportunities are scarce. The USDA attributes economic instability as a major player in the rise of drug addiction.
What is Being Done?
USDA officials say they are committed to finding the best possible solutions to fight the rural opioid epidemic. This includes more resources, prevention education, drug treatment and recovery opportunities. The USDA is working to provide necessary tools and resources for rural leaders to aid them in combating the crisis.
The USDA Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity provided more than 100 suggestions to current Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. The top suggestions included supporting a rural workforce, improving quality of life, achieving e-connectivity, harnessing technological innovation and developing the rural economy.
New alternatives are being found, tried and implemented with positive results. Health care providers have begun to utilize technologies like telemedicine, transportation alternatives and doctor-patient consults via the phone. Additionally, the Affordable Care Act has allowed for more necessary coverage to help fight the opioid epidemic.
Reaching for Solutions
Until recently, most strategies focused their efforts mainly on treating individuals and trying to reduce the supply of prescription opioids. Needed now are more innovative approaches, such as evidence-based school prevention programs and hands-on help, according to the University of Nebraska. More efforts are being made to address the roots of underlying problems such as poverty and unemployment.
Many schools that provide aid to those with addiction issues use outside sources, such as Belden Pathways to Employment. The Belden program blends drug rehabilitation with the promise of employment for workers willing to lead drug-free lives. The company provides networking, connectivity, and security solutions for industrial markets. It offers programs to individuals willing to enter treatment programs and to remain drug free. After the successful completion of the program, a person is awarded an internship. It is hoped that this type of program will be replicated by other companies to help end the economic instability that currently fuels the opioid epidemic.