Substance abuse is a prevalent public health issue in rural areas. Rural adults are reported to have higher rates of substance abuse, which includes tobacco, methamphetamine, heroin, and prescription drugs.
It is an especially difficult problem to treat in rural areas due to limited healthcare resources available for prevention, treatment, and recovery. There are many factors that contribute to substance abuse in rural areas, including poor education, poverty, unemployment, high-risk behaviors, isolation, etc. The substance abuse problem leads to significant personal and social consequences, including increased illegal activities, poor academic performance, poorer health status, and of course, increased risk of death from overdose and suicide. It is also important to note that rural admissions for drug overdoses were younger and less racially and ethnically diverse than urban admissions.
There is a high rate of unintentional overdose deaths per capita in rural America. It’s not only the healthcare that’s underfunded in rural areas, but also the police and EMS and other first responders that help form the critical infrastructure to handle social issues like substance abuse disorders and all the social consequences they have. There needs to be a focus on early prevention and intervention efforts in rural areas to help mitigate future substance dependence and abuse.
While it is the opioid epidemic that has ravaged both urban and rural America, there is a surge in polydrug abuse-related overdoses and deaths in rural areas, with heroin being implicated in a large majority of the cases. Overdose deaths related to a cocktail of hydrocodone, oxycodone, alprazolam, and diazepam in addition to heroin are commonly encountered.
The rural communities are suffering tremendously at the behest of this soaring health crisis. The infrastructure is lacking with few treatment centers that are understaffed and underfunded, and in most cases, the patients don’t have the means to reach there. There are also barriers such as public awareness. The people, in general, have a high-risk behavior and don’t have the necessary knowledge to make the right choices.
But all hope is not lost. There are changes being introduced to help fight this problem. Local law enforcement agencies are becoming more educated and equipped to identify and handle substance abuse disorders and their complications, mainly overdoses.
Telemedicine is being tried in the healthcare sector to help with reaching addicts in underserved rural communities. With telemedicine patients consult with an addiction specialist via telephone or online, benefiting from the expertise of a specialist remotely.
The 21st Century Cures Act that was recently passed by the federal government, includes funding to help fight the opioid epidemic. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) has enabled more patients to get insurance coverage for addiction rehabilitation and other mental health treatments. Having said that, it remains an important issue to rally for and get more funding and support for. Rural America continues to get devastated by the brunt of substance abuse epidemic, which destroys many lives every year.