LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- Although the number of hospitals and health care facilities continue to decline in rural America, more rural residents are able to access mental health services and are more open to talking about opioid addiction, a new poll funded by the American Farm Bureau Federation found.
Morning Consult did the national poll in October 2022, and talked to 2,010 rural residents and found several positive trends on opioid use.
Perhaps some of the most striking information was found regarding the availability of health care services in rural areas and, in particular, mental health services.
Rural residents who responded to the poll said it is easier in 2022 to access mental health treatment compared to 2017.
"Thinking about their local community, rural adults say it is easier in 2022 than in 2017 to access mental health treatment (+6 percentage points) and primary care treatment (+11)," according to the poll results.
"If they or a family member wanted to seek care from a mental health professional, rural adults in 2022 are more confident than rural adults in 2017 that they'd be able to find treatment that was affordable (+13), convenient to access (+13), covered by their insurance (+14) and effective (+12)."
According to the American Hospital Association, the number of rural community hospitals in the U.S. declined from 1,887 in 2015 to 1,805 in 2019.
On the opioids front, 40% of adults in rural areas responding to the survey said it was easy for someone to access a large volume of prescription opioids without a medical need.
That was a 6-percentage-point decrease from 2017.
Still, 42% of rural adults said they know someone who is or has been addicted to opioids or prescription painkillers.
The poll found that attitudes toward opioid abuse have softened since 2017.
Compared to 2017, rural adults in 2022 are more likely to say someone can accidentally or unintentionally get addicted to opioids. Rural adults in 2022 are more likely (+11) than rural adults in 2017 to say that addiction to opioids is a disease.
"However, nearly half of rural adults (57%) say there is stigma or shame associated with opioid abuse in their local community," the survey results said.
"Compared to 2017, rural adults are more likely to say reducing shame or stigma around opioid addiction (+5) and government limits on drug production (+5) would be effective in helping solve the opioid crisis. Consistent with 2017, rural adults say the messages that people can recover from opioid abuse (74%) and that families need to be able to openly discuss addiction to get help (75%) would be effective in decreasing shame or stigma associated with opioid abuse."
The poll found 60% of survey participants said adults in their communities are more aware of the opioid crisis than they were five years ago, and 77% report feeling comfortable having a conversation about opioids.
Sadly, the survey found that 42% of adults said they know someone who is or has been addicted to opioids.
DARK CLOUD OVER FARMING COMMUNITIES
"The opioid crisis has been a dark cloud over farming communities for far too long, which is why AFBF joined with NFU (National Farmers Union) five years ago in a quest to address one of the most difficult problems faced by our members," AFBF President Zippy Duvall said in a news release.
"We are pleased this new poll shows encouraging signs when it comes to reducing stigma and feeling prepared for tough conversations about addiction, but it also shows that we have more work to do."
NFU President Rob Larew said the survey shows rural Americans need to continue to learn about opioid addiction.
"As farmers and ranchers, we are proud to look out for our families and neighbors," he said in a news release.
"Collectively, we need to continue to educate ourselves about the impacts of mental health and opioid use in our communities. We must continue to reduce the stigma to connect our loved ones with health care and treatment they may need."
Please read this seven-part DTN series on the opioids crisis in rural America: https://www.dtnpf.com/….
Read more poll results here: https://www.fb.org/….
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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