USDA Announces New Local Initiatives to Address the Rural Opioid Epidemic

The New Initiatives will strengthen outreach and educational resources at the local level

USDA Announces New Local Initiatives to Address the Rural Opioid Epidemic
Image: Pixabay
September 21, 2016

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) initiatives to strengthen outreach and education resources at the local level to combat the rural opioid epidemic, including an expanded series of state-led opioid awareness events and increased access to information in USDA local offices.

The effort begins on Monday, September 19, 2016, coinciding with President Obama's designated Prescription Opioid and Heroin Epidemic Awareness Week from September 18-23, 2016.

The USDA says that opioid addiction, including heroin and prescription drug misuse, is a fast-growing problem that played a role in more than 28,000 deaths in 2014. This addiction crisis also disproportionately affects rural communities, in part due to the lack of outreach and treatment resources available in remote areas.

In January, President Obama tapped Vilsack to lead an interagency initiative focused on curbing rural opioid misuse. Over the past nine months, Vilsack has visited regions of the country that have been hit hard by opioid addiction to host a series of White House Rural Council Town halls to hear from local leaders fighting the epidemic on the ground and discuss possible solutions.

"Over the past few months, I've seen firsthand the devastation that opioid addiction is causing in communities across the country," said Vilsack. "After hearing from mothers and fathers who've lost their children to opioid misuse, and listening to mayors and medical personnel appeal for greater treatment resources, it's clear that rural communities need our help. In order to better serve our communities, I've directed USDA's local teams to step up as leaders and expand our resources and programs to battle the opioid epidemic."

To continue the important conversations happening in rural communities devastated by the opioid crisis, leaders from the USDA's Farm Service Agency and Rural Development offices in key affected states will host opioid awareness events to bring together government officials, medical professionals, law enforcement, and other stakeholders to raise awareness of the issue, forge partnerships, identify possible solutions, and highlight the need for more treatment resources in rural communities.

The series will kick off with these four events in September—with more to follow in the coming months:

  • September 19: Tolland, CT
  • September 20: Brighton, CO
  • September 26: Grants Pass, OR
  • September 29: Fayetteville, NC

Vilsack also announced that the USDA will display information about addiction resources from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in all of its local offices.

The USDA's Farm Service Agency, Rural Development and Natural Resources Conservation Services offices serve millions of Americans across the country each year and for many people in rural communities this may be the only face-to-face interaction they have with the federal government.

The USDA's offices can play an important role in raising awareness about the issue and helping people connect with resources.

Forty-four percent of Americans recently said they or someone they know has been addicted to prescription pain medicine.

The President has proposed $1.1 billion in new funding to support states in expanding treatment options. Recently, Congress passed legislation aimed at addressing the crisis; however, did not provide any funding that would expand resources.