In recent years, the opioid crisis has begun to hit hardest in small towns and rural communities. According to statistics at Bloomberg City Lab, over the past two decades, opioid-related deaths in rural areas increased by 700 percent. In urban areas, deaths from opioids increased by 400 percent.
Now, experts are left to question the exact reasons for the rise in opioid use in rural areas. By deploying and educating responsive measures, federal and state government associations hope to stop the increase in opioid use across rural areas.
Still prevalent in metro areas across America, opioids are having serious effects on both small and large communities. With both areas possessing different reasons for the rise in opioids, the solutions must be specific to their communities. Many rural communities are facing a lack of resources to help people addicted to opioids, whereas metro areas are surrounded by them.
Challenges With Rural Areas and Opioids
At first glance, most people may think that opioids wouldn’t be a problem for rural areas. However, there are many reasons why the opioid crisis is spiking in areas like these. In an interview with NPR Illinois, Kirk Dombrowski, a sociologist at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said social networks are much larger than those in urban areas. The larger the social network, the easier it can be for someone to buy or sell illegal opioids. In fact, rural areas have almost twice the size of social networks than that of metro areas.
Along with social networks, rural areas have different types of opioids compared to large cities. In recent years, prescription opioids have become more common in drug overdoses in rural areas than in metro areas. According to statistics in a study by the Carsey School of Public Policy at the University of New Hampshire, prescription opioids are more likely to result in drug overdoses in rural areas.
“In 2016, prescription opioids were involved in 31 percent of drug overdose deaths in non-metro counties, compared to 24 percent for synthetic opioids and 16 percent for heroin,” according to the study. “In metropolitan counties, synthetic opioids were involved in 32 percent of drug overdose deaths, while heroin and prescription opioids were each involved in 26 percent.”
In rural areas, where farming, manufacturing, and mining take place, injury rates tend to be higher. This also means prescriptions for opioids are common for most people to take and doctors to prescribe. According to a study from The University of Nebraska Medical Center, the number of prescription opioids in rural areas like Nebraska is high.
“Since agriculture is Nebraska’s primary industry, injury rates are high. In 2017, the National Institute on Drug Abuse reported that Nebraska providers wrote 56.6 opioid prescriptions for every 100 persons. The average U.S. rate the same year was 58.7 prescriptions per 100 persons.”
Because people in rural communities have more access to prescription opioids, it’s more likely for them to develop opioid use disorder.
Since there is a misconception that metro areas have high amounts of opioid use, people can overlook rural areas. In rural areas, obtaining a prescription and synthetic opioids can be easy for most people. However, the resources large cities have been more numerous compared to rural communities.
Improvements Being Made to Combat the Opioid Crisis
In rural America, there are many things that can be improved to help communities struggling with the opioid crisis. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was given many suggestions for improving rural America. Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity reported more than 100 ways to improve rural communities in 2018. One of those areas for improvement included addressing opioid use disorders. The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture was granted $2.8 million in November 2018 to help improve rural health. Six out of the nine programs within that grant were specifically designed to prevent and reduce opioid use disorder.
Just as important as placing preventative measures against opioid use disorders, education tools for communities can help in other ways. The Rural Community Tool Box provided by the USDA can help communities struggling with the opioid crisis. Whether it is funding, treatment, and services, information resources, expert help, and training, any person can be helped anywhere using online tools.
Today, improvements are being made for people who have been affected by opioid use disorder and overdoses. By communicating online with doctors, therapists, or counselors, people can receive telemedicine. Also, employers and companies online are committed to helping those who are recovering from addictions to opioids. Created by a company called Belden in Richmond, Virginia, Belden’s Pathway to Employment is aimed at stopping employee overturn as a result of addiction.
Belden’s Pathway to Employment is an online program model for those who need help after recovery to gain employment. Through this program, people are educated on better ways to approach addiction as they are employed throughout the company. The example set by Belden is something that can be followed by other employers.
In rural and small-town America, the opioid crisis is dangerous. The resources and education to drive back opioid misuse are missing. People in rural areas have easier access to prescription opioids, as well as larger social circles. Rehab clinics are scarce and not enough people know how to handle the growing problem. However, organizations such as the Rural Community Tool Box, the USDA, and even the CDC are trying to help. All these organizations offer resources for those who are struggling with substance use disorder.