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Opioid crisis in rural America

Photo by Anna Hastert


Today, I start by giving a biblical quote: “What does it profit a man who gains the whole world but loses his own soul?”

The loss of soul is to addiction – to opioid painkillers written as a prescription for millions of people in rural America for many years.

The overall result is devastating. The National Center for Health Statistics reports an estimated 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses last year, with more than half of those deaths involving opioids, including prescription drugs and heroin. The number of deaths due to overdose continue to rise in rural America.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has been a leader in combatting addiction in rural America, with former Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack put in charge during the Obama Administration.

A great deal of government funding, through the USDA, has gone to equalizing care for those in rural America.

The following commentary on opioid addiction in rural America comes from Rick Frank, sitting in for John Block.

The opioid epidemic is a national crisis. Drug overdoses are killing 64,000 Americans each year. It is the leading cause of death for individuals under 50. It requires urgent action and solutions from across our society – the Trump Administration, the DEA, manufacturers, prescribers, distributors, dispensers and patients.

The recent sensational reporting of the Washington Post and CBS’ Sixty Minutes, where a bitter, retired DEA employee blamed the drug problem on drug distributors does nothing to address this extremely serious problem.

Distributors do not manufacture, prescribe or dispense opioids. Doctors prescribe. Pharmacists and clinics dispense. And importantly, the DEA annually sets a quota for how much these drugs can be manufactured and sold based upon what it considers to be “medically necessary.”

Solutions will not come easily, but there are some good ideas out there.

  1. DEA should reduce the amount of these drugs which can be produced and dispensed annually.
  2. “Medically necessary” prescriptions should be limited as to the number of pills and duration – 3- or 7-day prescriptions, not a month or longer.
  3. FDA should take a hard critical look at current approvals and consider reducing prescription strength and indications where abuse is the greatest and other alternatives exist.
  4. DEA should coordinate with State Boards of Pharmacy to pull licenses and prosecute known “pill mills.”
  5. DEA and State Medical Boards should carefully scrutinize physicians prescribing hundreds of thousands of pills per year and, where appropriate, pull their licenses.
  6. DEA should follow the law and conduct a rulemaking to define “suspicious orders” to assist distributors in knowing where and when a customer should be scrutinized and shipments suspended.
  7. Educational programs should be initiated to help the public realize that “leftover” pills need to be properly destroyed or returned.

Only by working collaboratively can the DEA, prescribers, manufacturers, distributors, dispensers and the public make a dent in this horrible tragedy impacting large and small communities throughout our nation. Finger-pointing and politically motivated investigative reporting will not solve the problem.