SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (News4Utah) – It’s deemed one of the biggest health crisis of our time.
The opioid epidemic is a problem that’s plaguing rural communities across the nation. So much so that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is partnering with rural leaders to address the crisis through regional roundtable discussions.
Wednesday, Anne Hazlett, the USDA’s Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development joined federal, state and local leaders at the Utah State Capitol for one of these discussions. They joined forces with eleven panelists who work in the field of prevention to tackle the problem head on.
“We must accept change. We must start thinking outside the box with prevention and resources,” one of the panelists said.
According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, Utah has one of the highest death rates due to drug overdose. In 2016, the state lost 635 people to this epidemic.
“The opioid epidemic in rural communities is more than a public health issue,” Hazlett said. “This is a matter of rural prosperity. Opioid misuse is impacting the quality of life and economic well-being in small towns,” she added.
The main goals of the discussion was how to spread awareness about this issue in rural Utah, catch greedy dealers, and ultimately save lives.
The issue is these drug traffickers aren’t just on the streets. Sometimes, they are trusted doctors.
“That concerns me because of the profit margin that is out there. More so because it’s flooding the streets with pills that look to be authentic, pharmaceutical grade pills, but they are nothing more than sham laced with deadly fentanyl,” said DEA Agent Brian Bessey.
Leaders want you to understand: the drug has no prejudice. It can affect people from all walks of life.
“Three of Utah’s rural counties have made the list for most vulnerable in the nation. This scourge of addiction and abuse affects everyone, regardless of gender, age, and race,” said Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes.
This crisis also has a flip side. For those who truly need the medication — it’s a constant battle.
“Rough numbers indicate that one in 10 people will be subject to the addiction problem. That means that there’s a large majority that will not suffer from that problem,” said Alema Harrington, substance use disorder counselor.
Harrington says the challenge now becomes being able to decipher between those who truly need opioids and those who do not.
Opioid overdose is hurting our economy and costing our country about 95 billion dollars a year in taxes and insurance money.
That’s why the USDA is working to assist rural leaders with resources, information and best practices to help these communities respond to and manage the crisis.
For more information go to USDA’s opioid misuse in rural America webpage.