Taking Action Against the Opioid Crisis

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The opioid overdose epidemic is growing at an alarming rate and having devastating consequences on many of North Carolina’s rural communities, families and public health providers.

Among rural residents, farmers and farmworkers are being impacted on a disproportionate level. It’s a national problem, and North Carolina has the second largest rural population in the nation and nearly 50,000 farmers.

From 1999 to 2016, more than 12,000 North Carolinians died from opioid-related overdoses. This represented an increase of more than 800 percent over the period. Medical providers are being overwhelmed and the situation is putting a strain on prevention and treatment efforts, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).

North Carolina leaders announced plans to reduce opioid overdose deaths by 20 percent by 2021 when DHHS launched the NC Opioid Action Plan in June 2017. With collaboration from stakeholders across the state, the plan identified key strategies to combat the opioid epidemic. The DHHS has since provided grants to support community activities and projects designed to advance Action Plan goals.

This complex issue requires government agencies to pursue their historical partnerships, but also continue their more recent associations with rural health and agricultural leaders. While this infrastructure of relationships and programs takes root, emergency department visits for opioid overdoses in the state continue to rise, with 5,762 visits during 2017 – a 40 percent increase from 2016.

Our rural families are being impacted. The presidents of the nation’s two largest general farm organizations recently visited the “Prescribed to Death” opioid memorial in Washington, D.C.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall and National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson toured the exhibit, which memorializes the 22,000 people who died from a prescription opioid overdose in 2015.

“Rural Americans are often ashamed or embarrassed to talk about family members who struggle with addiction,” Duvall said. “We know this is a difficult conversation. But we all need to talk about this problem to get help for those we care about.”

Farm Bureau and NFU are confronting the opioid epidemic through our joint awareness campaign: FarmTownStrong.org.

The epidemic is nothing new. In 2007, the Ohio Department of Health noted that unintentional drug poisoning became the leading cause of injury death in Ohio, surpassing motor vehicle crashes for the first time on record. This sobering fact led that state’s 4-H to focus its healthy living program on raising awareness. NC 4-H also includes a healthy living program within its The Health Rocks!® series. Its goal is to bring youth, families and communities together to reduce tobacco, alcohol and drug use.

NC 4-H is one of many service and faith-based organizations addressing this growing epidemic through awareness and action campaigns. It will take all their efforts, plus the support of you and your communities to meet the goals of the Opioid Action plan and help save the next generation.

– Larry Wooten

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