Opioid Misuse in Rural America

March 1, 2018

Originally Published by the USDA.

The United States is experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose deaths.  In 2016, nearly 64,000 Americans died from a drug overdose. At 174 people each day, this is more than the number of lives lost in car accidents or gun-related homicides. An overwhelming majority of these overdose deaths involved an opioid.  While no corner of the country has gone untouched by this issue, the opioid epidemic has hit rural America particularly hard.

In October 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that the rates of drug overdose deaths are rising in rural areas, surpassing rates in urban areas.  A November 2017 report from the USDA Economic Research Service revealed rising mortality rates among working age adults living in rural America, stemming in part from prescription drug and heroin misuse.  Lastly, a December 2017 survey by the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation found that as many as 74 percent of farmers have been directly impacted by the opioid crisis.

The impact of this epidemic on small towns and rural places is painfully visible.  From the coast of Maine to the hills of southeast Ohio, opioid misuse has created lost productivity in jobs, increased health care demands, and put great stress on emergency response, law enforcement, judicial and school system resources.  The opioid crisis has also put a significant strain on families where millions of children are being raised by grandparents or extended family because of addiction.  Finally, beyond community resources and family stability, the opioid epidemic is impacting rural prosperity.  For many rural counties already operating on slim budgets and struggling to attract new businesses or maintain existing employers, the consequences of this issue for rural communities are very real. 

As rural leaders respond to this growing challenge, an effective solution to addressing this issue will take leadership and collaboration from a broad range of partners at the federal, state and local level.  Under the leadership of Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, USDA is keenly focused on facilitating prosperity in rural America.  With a concern for quality of life and economic opportunity, USDA is partnering to strengthen local responses to the opioid epidemic in rural communities. 

For more information visit: https://www.usda.gov/topics/opioids