The opioid crisis is hitting rural America hard- especially farm and ranch families. An article on the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) website explains how they’re working together with the National Farmers Union (NFU) to address the issue. The two groups have started a campaign called Farm Town Strong that’s intended to help farmers overcome opioid addiction. They’re hoping the campaign will help bring more of the problems with opioids to light.
Opioid Use in Rural America
Over the last several years, opioids have been fairly easy for most people to get. Addiction frequently starts when individuals start taking what they believe are “safe painkillers.” But prescription opioid painkillers are highly addictive. According to the Centers for Disease Control, opioids killed over 42,000 people in the US in 2016. That includes deaths from prescription painkillers, fentanyl and heroin.
The AFBF and NFU sponsored a survey in an effort to help determine how the opioid crisis is affecting US farmers and ranchers. Below is a list of their significant findings.
- Three in four farmers and farm workers have been directly impacted by opioid abuse. This means they’ve known someone, had a family member addicted, or have dealt with opioid addiction themselves.
- Three in four farmers and agriculture workers say it is easy to obtain opioids with or without a prescription.
- 75% of rural adults understand that that opioid abuse can begin accidentally with the use of “safe painkillers.”
- Half of farmers and farm workers see opioid addiction as a disease.
- The majority of rural adults don’t know that their communities are affected the most by the opioid crisis. They believe opioid addiction to be a major problem in urban communities.
- Only one in three rural adults believe getting help for opioid addiction in their community would be easy. 38% are confident they could find good care that is covered by insurance, convenient and affordable.
- 68% of rural Americans believe more public education about opioid addiction and resources would be effective way to solve the problem.
Forbes also published an article this week debunking the common myths surrounding the opioid crisis. What makes opioid addictions so different from other drug addictions is how widespread of a problem it is, and how more and more deaths are occurring from prescription opioids. Right now, one American dies every 13 minutes from opioids, and it’s estimated that 4.5 million people are addicted to them. Estimated costs to US businesses is $25.5 billion per year, and opioid addiction costs the justice system $7.7 billion per year.
Opioids are killing all different kinds of people in all different areas of the country. In 2016, 67% of those who died of opioid overdose in the US were male. 80% of those who died were white and between the ages of 35 and 44. In 2016, the highest rates of drug overdose deaths occurred in rural states.
Opioid addiction is chronic, and simple willpower is not enough to overcome it. Addicts depend on opioids to feel normal, and not stopping use of it can cause physical pain. The longer opioids are used, they can change the brain’s ability to reason. That makes overcoming the addiction even more difficult.
Insurance Options for Opioid Addiction Treatment are Largely Inadequate
US News and World Report’s Robert Preidt says that only four states in the US provide adequate insurance coverage for addiction treatment. A new report from the Center of Addiction in New York City looked at addiction treatment benefits in health insurance plans sold across the country in 2017. Over half of the states offered a plan that didn’t comply with the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to cover addiction treatment. 20% of states had plans that outright violated federal law which requires addiction to be treated like any other chronic disease- like diabetes or cancer.
Only Rhode Island provided comprehensive coverage in the tow ACA plans reviewed. California, Minnesota and Oregon had one 2017 plan that provided comprehensive addiction coverage. Lindsey Vuolo, the author of the report, said,
“Amid a national opioid crisis and public outcry for more treatment, we’d expect to see greater improvements in insurance coverage for addiction benefits.”
“We need to use all tools at our disposal, including laws that prohibit discriminatory insurance practices, so more people receive affordable care,” she added.
The report found that discriminatory coverage worsened with regard to coverage for methadone- a medication that is used to tread opioid addiction. The Center for Addiction’s report provides several significant reminders. Most people can’t afford addiction treatment unless their insurance covers it- and people have a right to that insurance coverage. Insurance executives and government officials need to recognize that their failure to provide addiction coverage options for citizens is causing an unnecessary loss of lives.
Less Fentanyl Coming in From China
At the end of March, China announced that it will now list all fentanyl-related substances as narcotics. Michael Martina of Reuters reported the story. President Donald Trump has criticized China for allowing the synthetic opioid to be shipped to the US, and wants the issue brought into trade negotiations.
The US Drug Enforcement Agency said in a statement,
“This significant development will eliminate Chinese drug traffickers’ ability to alter fentanyl compounds to get around the law.”
“We look forward to our continued collaboration with China to reduce the amount of this deadly poison coming into our country,” the DEA statement said.
As opioid addiction is becoming better understood, the US government and several farm organizations are ramping up efforts to quell it’s impact on rural America. Hopefully less fentanyl will be coming from China. Increasing overall understanding is a start. But without adequate insurance to help cover the costs of treatment, many won’t be getting the help they need.