Commentary: Rural communities can fight opioids

We need to work together with compassion to help

Addiction: A Rural Reality

“I have enjoyed the [opioid] articles carried in Farm and Dairy because it needs to be something which is talked about, not hidden…. believe me, there many parents, wives, children that, like us, have walked down that road.” — A reader via email

By Susan Crowell /

For nine months, those of us in the Farm and Dairy newsroom left our comfort zone and delved into the world of drug addiction. The result was the three-part series, “Addiction: A Rural Reality,” which ran Nov. 2, 9 and 16. If you missed any or all of it, you can easily find it at

Last week, the American Farm Bureau and National Farmers Union released the results of a survey they sponsored to gauge the impact of the opioid epidemic in farm country. The numbers were sobering.

If you think drug use is not happening in your rural community,
you are sadly mistaken. It is.

Nearly three-quarters (74 percent) of the farmers and farm workers responding to the poll said they have been directly impacted by opioid abuse. And three in four farmers also say it would be easy for someone in their community to get opioids illegally.

If you think drug use is not happening in your rural community, you are sadly mistaken. It is.

The issue may seem so huge that it’s insurmountable. But think locally. Practices and solutions that are working are out there, we just need to look for them and adapt them to our communities.

We need to fight for detox and treatment centers in our underserved areas, which are most rural counties. Treatment works and people do recover, although like other diseases, sometimes it’s a lifelong process.

And we need to start talking. Parents, you play a bigger role than you think when it comes to influencing your child’s substance use or misuse. Likewise, friends, you also play a huge role.

But, parents and peers, have you ever talked to a child/friend/family member about substance use or misuse? An informal survey conducted earlier this year in Ohio, of more than 900 teens (age 14-18) primarily from rural settings, learned that nearly 400 of those teens said their parents had never talked to them about substance use.

And just over 400 said their peers never talked about substance use.


Related reading: Every life is worth saving

Education and awareness and communication go a long way to reducing the shame or stigma around opioid addiction. It is a public health crisis, not a moral one.

“Time and time again, farmers and ranchers have come together to help their families and their neighbors through challenging situations,” said NFU President Roger Johnson in releasing the AFBF/NFU survey.

“That same resolve and compassion will help us break the grips of opioid addiction in rural America.”

I like that. Resolve and compassion. If there are two adjectives that describe the majority of the farming community, it would be those two words. We often band together to help strangers in the wake of a farm disaster, why can’t we band together to lend a hand to friends and family going through drug use, treatment and recovery.

What do we do now? There needs to be a sense of urgency. We need to start responding as neighbors, as communities. We need to start paying attention.

We need to care.




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