‘Farm Town Strong’ Spotlights Opioid Crisis’ Impact on Farm Communities

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‘Farm Town Strong’ Spotlights Opioid Crisis’ Impact on Farm Communities

By Victoria Kim 01/04/18

A lack of treatment access is one of many reasons that farmers are now banding together to provide much-needed resources and support to their communities.

Image: 
Farmer controls the work in the field over his electronic tablet

A new awareness campaign called "Farm Town Strong" seeks to shed light on the opioid crisis’ impact on American farming communities and to provide resources and support for people who need help.

According to a recent survey commissioned by the two groups that launched Farm Town Strong, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the National Farmers Union (NFU), American farmers report that while it is easy to access “large amounts of opioids,” these rural communities are isolated from most treatment options that some say are “often an hour’s drive away,” as the New York Times reported last March.

The survey reports that farmers have gotten the worst of the opioid crisis compared to other rural communities. “While just under half of rural Americans say they, a family member or friend have been directly impacted by opioid abuse, for farmers and farm workers it’s 74%,” reads a press release by the AFBF.

The Farm Town Strong campaign includes a new website (FarmTownStrong.org) and a social media campaign around the hashtag #FarmTownStrong. According to the press release, the presidents of the AFBF and NFU, Zippy Duvall and Roger Johnson respectively, will lead a public forum on January 8, to discuss strategies to address the opioid crisis, at the AFBF’s annual convention in Nashville, Tennessee.

“Opioid addiction—along with all of its consequences—is a silent, but very real, crisis for our farming communities,” said NFU President Johnson. “The lack of services, treatment and support exacerbates the issue in rural areas, and the negative stigma associated with addiction makes it hard for farmers to discuss the problem.”

The New York Times reported last March from rural Ohio outside of Cincinnati, where drug overdoses have nearly tripled since 1999. Reporter Jack Healy observed that unemployment was not a problem in this particular community, but that wasn’t enough to keep people off drugs.

“The economic resilience has done little to insulate the area from a cascade of cheap heroin and synthetic opiates like fentanyl and carfentanil, an elephant tranquilizer, which have sent overdose rates soaring across much of the country, but especially in rural areas like this one,” Healy wrote.

Local farmers reported purchasing drugs that filter down from nearby cities like Cincinnati and Dayton, as dealers set up shop in their communities with their illicit goods.

The difficulty of accessing treatment is a major issue for these communities. Not only is it difficult to come out against the stigma associated with drug use, even if a person is willing to seek help, this alone presents another obstacle they must overcome.

“Even if you realize you’ve got a problem and are interested in seeking treatment, the treatment centers have not been there, the professionals have not been there,” said former Secretary of the US Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. “You don’t have access to AA meetings seven days a week. You’re lucky if you’ve got one a week, or you’ve got to drive 25 miles to get to one.”

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