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Rural America leads nation in opioid abuse

Posted on 01-18-2017 Posted in Addiction, Substance Abuse - 0 Comments

By now, readers of these pages are aware of America’s opioid crisis. Rather than lay out more disturbing statistics, this article seeks to shed light on at least one aspect of the problem.

Despite the fact that drugs have always evoked images of gritty city life, with its shooting alleys and galleries, rural Americans – per population density – are consuming more prescription opioids and, proportionately, dying in greater numbers than suburbanites and urbanites. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health suggests four reasons why rural America is so opioid-dependent.

Why opioid abuse is so prevalent in rural areas

Here are four factors driving opioid abuse in rural America:

  1. Greater availability in rural areas : One reason why there are more opioid painkillers in rural areas is there are more seniors in these locations. Seniors consume more prescriptions than any other demographic. Despite comprising just 13 percent of the population, seniors account for one-third of all prescription sales. Seniors are more likely to take long-term prescriptions, either due to chronic pain or simply because they are less ambulatory than the general population. (This factor ties into factor 3, social and kinship networks.)
  1. A dearth of young people : According to the 2010 census, in West Virginia (which has many rural counties and an exploding opioid problem), seniors outnumber individuals ages 18 to 24 by two to one. More and more young people are abandoning rural life for city life. Those who stay behind are at greater risk for drug abuse for a myriad of reasons – most notably lack of jobs and education. Individuals living in urban areas have greater access to employment and education.
  1. Social and kinship networks : Family ties in rural areas are much closer than in urban areas. Families often live within walking distance of each other. This provides for a strong social fabric but also facilitates the sharing of prescription drugs. Nearly 90 percent of all young people who abuse these drugs got their start from a family member’s largesse. In addition, rural citizens are more close-knit and tight-lipped than urbanites. These individuals are less likely to divulge personal information to outsiders, even health care workers.
  1. The stress of modern rural living : Unlike urban areas, which experience economic cycles, rural America has been declining economically for years. As mentioned above, few young people are willing to stay on the farm. Second, these areas have high rates of unemployment, with very little in the way of upward mobility. Despite recent minimum wage increases, these benefits do not extend to family-run businesses, which include many small farms. With little to do and no money, many young people turn to drugs to alleviate their ennui.

Help is available

Sovereign Health of Florida provides the latest evidence-based treatment for mental health and substance use disorders. We also specialize in diagnosing co-occurring conditions (also called dual diagnosis or comorbid conditions). Typically, we look for co-occurring mental illness and substance abuse. But we also screen for physical ailments, as these can have a significant impact on a behavioral health issue. Our goal for our patients is to restore them to optimal physical and mental health. We provide balanced meals, exercise and a healthy environment in order to reverse the ravages of riotous living. We also provide medically assisted detox. Please contact the 24/7 helpline listed on this webpage for more information.

About the author

Darren Fraser is a staff writer for Sovereign Health. He worked two and half years as a reporter and researcher for The Yomiuri Shimbun until they realized he did not read, speak or write Japanese and fired him. Undeterred, he channels his love of research into unearthing stories that provide hope to those dealing with addiction and mental illness. Darren loves the Montreal Canadiens hockey club and horror films and would prefer to enjoy these from the comforts of his family’s farm in Quebec. For more information about this media, contact the author at

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