USDA Rural Development Roundtable Discussion on Opioid Misuse: Equipping Local Leaders to Respond

By Dr. Carrie Castille, Louisiana State Director for USDA Rural Development

 Dr. Carrie Castille

Dr. Carrie Castille

The opioid epidemic is a critical challenge for rural and urban communities. It is more than a health concern. The opioid crisis is an issue of rural prosperity and we all need to work together to address these concerns.

While no corner of our state has gone untouched by the opioid crisis, the impact of this issue on small towns and rural places has been particularly significant. This crisis is devastating rural families, creating tremendous stress on local leaders, impacting worker productivity, increasing healthcare demands, and placing enormous stress on limited emergency response, law enforcement, and social services.

Last October, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that the rates of drug-related deaths are rising in rural areas, surpassing rates in urban centers.  In November, two leading farm organizations, the American Farm Bureau and National Farmers Union, released a study which showed nearly 50 percent of rural adults-- and 74 percent of farmers-- have been directly impacted by opioid abuse.

Louisiana is one of the top ten states for opioid overdoses, with approximately 780 residents dying from prescription overdoses each year.  We are one of eight states to have more opioid prescriptions than residents.

The National Center for Health Statistics reported recently that an estimated 63,600 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016. That’s 174 a day. More than half of those deaths involved opioids, including prescription drugs and heroin. This number is up 21 percent in just one year — from 144 a day in 2015.

These numbers are alarming and that is why USDA Rural Development joined the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to start the discussion on addressing the nation’s growing opioid epidemic at the CajunCodeFest Opioid Healthcare Summit with a focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).

Throughout the day, top leaders in research, healthcare, law enforcement, and the recovery community discussed key topics that included challenges associated with substance use disorder; strategies for prevention, treatment, and recovery; and how these measures can be replicated to effectively address the epidemic in rural communities. Senator Bill Cassidy led a discussion on the tradeoffs that leaders must make because of resource allocation and challenges to combat this crisis. 

As the discussion continued, one extremely important message was, “to be effective, we must have the right people at the table” including persons in recovery from substance use disorders. People recovering from substance use disorder should be a vital part of the conversation. After all, they know first-hand what’s involved and needed to address challenges and barriers such as recovery, employment, and housing.

During the CajunCodeFest, coders from eight high school and universities were listening and taking notes.  They were charged with coming up with a solution for the next innovative idea, app, software, device, etc. focusing on opioid healthcare treatment and prevention. I witnessed the first time ever that a high school won the coding contest. This was also an opportunity to address the shortage of STEM education in rural communities. USDA recognizes that STEM skills are important for all rural jobs and enterprises, particularly for the technology-oriented future of America’s workforce.

On Saturday April 28th, we can protect our family, our friends, and our community by getting rid of those unused prescriptions at a Take Back Day collection site.  Visit takebackday.dea.gov for more information about the dangers of unused prescription drugs and to locate a safe collection site near you.

With a keen focus on rural prosperity, USDA is strongly engaged and focused on addressing the opioid crisis in rural communities. So far, the Department has convened regional roundtables to hear firsthand accounts of the impact of the crisis and effective strategies for response in rural communities; launched a webpage on opioid misuse in rural America featuring resources for rural communities and individuals facing the crisis; and prioritized investments in the Community Facilities and Distance Learning and Telemedicine Programs to address the crisis in rural places. For more information about these efforts, visit the USDA rural opioid misuse webpage at www.usda.gov/opioids.

For a rural parish already struggling to attract new businesses – or maintain existing employers – the impact is painfully visible throughout the state. Rural areas lack access to health care, isolation, and economic decline.

An effective response to address this issue in small towns will look different than in big cities-- in some cases requiring innovation in delivery of services such as telemedicine, mobile treatment clinics, and peer recovery coaches will help. We are here to equip local leaders with resources to respond.

Beyond our own resources, we are building strategic partnerships and facilitating the adoption of best practices to better shape our efforts-- and the activity of other rural interests-- to be an effective partner to local communities.

Working together, we can help address opioid misuse. We need to hear from you. Please contact me, carrie.castille@la.usda.gov or (318)473.7921, to let us know how we can help.

It’s an honor to serve you.

Dr. Carrie Castille
Louisiana State Director for USDA Rural Development