Opioid Effects on Farm Country

Joint Survey by Farm Groups Shows Massive Challenge with Opioid Abuse in Rural America

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
Nearly half of rural residents say it is easy to get access to opioids. That is just one of the findings in a survey supported by both the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union. The study was conducted by the polling group Morning Consult. (Courtesy graphic)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- The opioid crisis has struck farm and ranch families much harder than the rest of rural America, according to a Morning Consult survey commissioned by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union, the nation's two largest general farm organizations.

Leaders for the two farm organizations called for more engagement and action in rural America, including encouraging people who know someone affected by opioid abuse to get help.

Just under half of rural Americans say they have been directly affected by opioid abuse, while 74% of farmers and farm workers say they have, the survey showed.

Three in four farmers say it would be easy for someone in their community to access opioids illegally, and just under half of rural adults -- 46% -- say the same.

The poll is a first step in collaboration between the Farm Bureau and the NFU on this issue, the groups said.

"We've known for some time that opioid addiction was a serious problem in farm country, but numbers like these are heartbreaking," Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall said.

Duvall said the groups are urging everyone to talk to friends, family and co-workers who may need help. "Because opioid addiction is a disease, it's up to all of us to help people who suffer from it and help them find the treatment they need. Government cannot and will not fix this on its own. But make no mistake: Rural communities are strong. The strengths of our towns can overcome this crisis."

Roger Johnson, president of NFU, said the opioid crisis is not just an abstract issue, but an enormous challenge for both rural and urban America, "and we as a country need to come to grips with it," he said.

"These responses demonstrate the reach of the unrelenting and deadly crisis that is gripping farm families across the country," Johnson said. "Farm and rural communities currently face major challenges in the fight against addiction, like access to services, treatment and support. Time and time again, farmers and ranchers have come together to help their families and their neighbors through challenging situations. That same resolve and compassion will help us break the grips of opioid addiction in rural America."

The survey showed that 50% of farmers and farm workers consider addiction to opioids a disease rather than a lack of willpower -- an indication that many are out of step with medical professionals' consensus view that addiction is a disease.

Three in four farmers, and those who work in agriculture, acknowledge it is easy for someone in their community to access large amounts of opioids or painkillers without a prescription. Still, 31% of rural adults are largely unaware that rural communities are impacted the most by the opioid crisis. And, they say by a 10-point margin that opioid abuse is a major problem in urban communities more so than in rural communities -- 57% vs. 47%.

Other findings:

-- Rural adults overwhelmingly (75%) recognize that opioid abuse can begin accidentally with the use of what are deemed safe painkillers, or opioids.

-- One in three rural adults, or 34%, say it would be easy to access treatment for addiction to prescription drugs or heroin in their local community. But, less than half (38%) are confident they could seek care that is either effective, covered by insurance, convenient or affordable.

-- One in three rural adults, or 31%, say there is a great deal of stigma associated with opioid abuse in their local community and 32% say the stigma of abuse and addiction contributes a great deal to the opioid crisis.

-- A strong majority of rural Americans -- 68% -- believe in increasing public education surrounding resources, and 57% agreed that reducing the shame or stigma around opioid addiction are effective means for solving the opioid crisis.

A presentation of the poll results can be found at https://goo.gl/…

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at jhagstrom@njdc.com

Follow Jerry Hagstrom on Twitter @hagstromreport


Jerry Hagstrom