The opioid epidemic seems to have a tighter grip on rural America. Many factors go into why the epidemic continues to remain constant in these areas. One sad indication of how bad the epidemic is becoming is the growing number of babies born with opioid dependence, according to Bloomberg.
Research is being done to understand why this crisis has hit rural America harder, as well as its lasting effects. Meanwhile, the federal government has put preventative measures and guidelines in place to contend with the outbreak.
The opioid epidemic is still affecting major cities, but residents in rural areas lack the resources and education needed to fight the crisis.
Lack of Support System
The opioid epidemic in rural America is still affecting both rural and metro areas. But the difference is that the same crisis is hitting rural communities much harder than larger cities.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2017, drug overdose deaths due to opioids stood at 4.9 people for every 100,000 residents in rural areas. In metro areas, that rate was 4.3 people for every 100,000 residents. Also, opioid deaths increased by more than
700 percent in rural areas. During the same period, cities saw opioid deaths rise less than 400 percent.
Prescription drug use in rural communities is the driving factor of the rural opioid crisis. According to The University of Nebraska Medical Center, nearly 74 percent of farmers and farm workers have been affected by opioid use disorder in one way or another. To make matters worse, people in these areas find it easy to obtain large amounts of opioid prescriptions. UNMC found that health-care providers in these areas wrote prescriptions at a rate of 56.6 per 100 people — just under the national average of 58.7.
Another factor when comparing cities to rural areas is the lack of many support systems. Fewer clinics and hospitals exist in rural areas. And there aren’t as many drug prevention and mental health treatment programs available. Also, a depleting labor market continues to weigh on many residents. According to the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire, all these factors lead many people to leave treatment or never begin it.
In an interview with NPR Illinois, former U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack addressed the problem.
“It’s not a fundamentally rural problem, but it’s a unique problem in rural America because of the lack of treatment capacity and facilities,” he said.
Studies conducted by the USDA indicate that economic instability is linked to a rise in drug addiction. With fewer employment opportunities and lower-paying jobs in rural America, some people there have resorted to trading and selling prescription opioids.
Ways to Help
USDA officials have stated that they are committed to finding the best ways to help rural America combat the opioid crisis. They plan to provide prevention, treatment, and recovery opportunities, along with aid from several resource programs. With these resources in place, work on systematic issues can begin.
Current Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was provided with more than 100 suggestions from the department’s Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity. The most common recommendations concerned achieving e-connectivity, improving quality of life, supporting a rural workforce, utilizing technical innovation, and developing the rural economy.
The implementation and discovery of new alternatives to treatment have had good results in rural communities. Among these are health care providers trying telehealth medicine, patients consulting via phone, and even transportation alternatives when physical attendance is required. According to Partnership to End Addiction, formerly the Center on Addiction, the 21st Century Cures Act helps states combat the opioid crisis. Also, the Affordable Care Act has allowed for more necessary coverage to help fight the crisis.
Efforts and strategies have long aimed at treating individuals. Another was attempting to limit the supply of prescription opioids whenever possible. However, it’s becoming clear that what is needed are more unconventional efforts, including evidence-based and school-based prevention programs, according to a report from the University of Nebraska. Unless the origins of the problem are addressed, existing interventions will be ineffective. Those origins include poverty, unemployment, and declining opportunities for advancement.
The Heller School at Brandeis University assists those with substance use issues through resources such as Belden Pathways to Employment The program blends drug rehabilitation with the promise of employment for workers willing to lead drug-free lives.
Belden provides IT solutions for companies in the industrial market. It offers an 18-month program to any individual with a high school education or GED. People going through the program must be willing to enter treatment and remain drug-free. Completing treatment provides them internships with the company. It’s hoped that this program will be replicated by other employers to help resolve the economic instability that fuels the opioid epidemic.