The U.S. Department of Agriculture today hosted a roundtable to raise awareness of the rural opioid crisis in Oregon, discuss the need for additional resources to curb the epidemic, and to collect input from community leaders on how to best target resources. USDA Rural Development State Director Vicki Walker and USDA Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Phil Ward convened the discussion with local officials and partner organizations involved in combating the crisis. This event is an extension of the work of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, the Chair of the White House Rural Council, who is leading an interagency effort at President Obama’s request to address the opioid epidemic and its impact on rural Americans.
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. The opioid crisis disproportionately affects rural communities, in part due to the lack of outreach and treatment resources available in remote areas. 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. Today’s event was a continuation of that effort.
“This crisis is devastating individuals and families from all walks of life in communities across the country, especially in remote, rural areas,” said Walker. “According to a recent Kaiser Family Foundation report, 44 percent of Americans personally know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers. USDA is using every tool at our disposal to help address this widespread, critical issue, but we would not be successful in those efforts without the support of our many dedicated partners who are also working daily to stem this epidemic.”
Participants at the roundtable held today at the City of Grants Pass Council Chamber included State Health Officer/State Epidemiologist Katrina Hedberg, and a number of community leaders, medical professionals, law enforcement officers, treatment providers, and other key partners that are taking action to respond and address the opioid crisis. During a discussion session facilitated by Lines for Life CEO Dwight Holton, attendees provided feedback that will be shared with Secretary Vilsack and the White House Rural Council. Comments were gathered regarding what additional resources are needed, what steps have been taken, which strategies have worked, and how these measures can be transferred to other communities across the nation to have a positive impact.
Throughout his administration, President Obama has made clear that addressing this epidemic is a priority and has highlighted tools that are effective in reducing drug use and overdose, like evidence-based prevention programs, prescription drug monitoring, prescription drug take-back events, medication-assisted treatment, and the overdose reversal drug naloxone. The President submitted a budget proposal and continues to call on Congress to provide $1.1 billion in new funding to help every American with an opioid use disorder who wants treatment get the help they need. Oregon would be eligible for up to $11 million over two years to expand access to treatment. While Congress recently passed legislation to address the epidemic, it did not include any funding that would expand resources.
USDA has taken a number of steps to use its resources to help battle the epidemic. In March, Secretary Vilsack announced that USDA’s Rural Health and Safety Education Grant Program could be used for communities to conduct drug addiction awareness efforts. USDA Rural Development’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program has helped hospitals in rural communities use telemedicine to better treat individuals struggling with addiction, and the Community Facilities Program has enabled rural areas to build treatment and recovery facilities. In August, the Secretary announced that USDA was leveraging its rural housing program to provide more housing for individuals in recovery. More information on USDA’s response to the opioid epidemic can be found at www.usda.gov/opioids.