Hope in the midst of rural America’s opioids crisis
By Sydney Gruters
Special to Historic City News
Opioid misuse seems to be a topic on the minds and in the hearts of so many Americans these days. Most of us know someone who has been personally affected by this horrific epidemic. Rural America is being hit especially hard.
In October 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the rates of drug overdose deaths are rising in rural areas, surpassing those in urban areas. In addition, a December 2017 survey by the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation found that as many as 74 percent of farmers have been directly impacted by the opioid crisis. In Florida, an opioid related death occurs every two and half hours.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Rural Development Assistant to the Secretary Anne Hazlett points out “The opioid epidemic is a pivotal challenge for many rural places. More than a health concern, the opioid crisis is an issue of rural prosperity and will take the commitment, collaboration and creativity of a wide range of partners to address.” I am encouraged to report that I have personally witnessed firsthand these actions taking place in Florida.
I recently attended the Florida Association of Counties (FAC) annual conference in Orlando. This year’s conference included an opioid forum which examined the drug crisis in America. Industry leaders including front-line physicians, policy makers, law enforcement officers and technology experts shared how they were joining forces to combat opioid misuse. The workshops also facilitated discussions on viable strategies to confront this public health crisis as well as recommendations on new approaches for providing vital support to those in need.
As a participant, it was hard to not be overwhelmed by the many stories of personal tragedy and the harsh statistics. At the same time, optimism remained. Heroic efforts are being made by the State of Florida, Florida non-profits and many highly engaged County and local leaders. The ongoing efforts were inspiring and an “all hands-on deck” approach conveyed throughout the forum offered hope that we will turn this tragedy around.
I am eager to let you know that USDA is also approaching the opioid crisis with a renewed and dedicated urgency. Our staff personally understands how the epidemic is devastating to its victims and their families. Drug misuse has a compounding ripple effect throughout communities, affecting quality of life, economic opportunity, and rural prosperity. No one remains unaffected.
Through leadership provided by Secretary Sonny Perdue and Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett, USDA is investing in prevention, treatment, and recovery in our rural communities through a variety of programs.
For example, local municipalities, non-profit organizations and Federally recognized tribes can apply through the Rural Development Community Facilities loan and grant application process for projects such as mobile treatment clinics. Through our Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant program, applicants receive priority for telemedicine projects with the primary purpose of providing prevention, treatment or recovery services.
In addition to program investment and through our innovation center, Rural Development has established a core workgroup with staff across the country focused on response activity, best practices, and information-sharing. They recently launched an interactive rural opioid misuse resources map on the USDA opioid webpage. This map will act as a library where we can deposit information about resources for prevention, treatment, and recovery.
Tackling the opioid epidemic in Florida will not be accomplished overnight and will require the energy and efforts of partners on all levels. As State Director for USDA Rural Development in Florida, I want to hear from you about what’s working in Florida – and what we can do better.