What Does Opiate Addiction Look Like in Rural Areas?

There is no question: The opiate crisis that has gripped the nation has hit some areas harder than others. Unfortunately, all too often, we can forget just how devastating this problem has been for some places. For example, many have asked this important question: What does opiate addiction look like in rural areas?

The tragic answer is awful. In many cases, addiction to opiates is worse in rural America than their urban or suburban counterparts. This is for many reasons, including easy access to illicit drugs, a lack of treatment, and economic factors, like poverty, lack of jobs, and an overall lack of economic mobility.

The Statistics on Opioids in Rural America

The simple fact of the matter is that rural America has suffered greatly as a result of the opioid epidemic. Over 67,000 Americans died of opioid-related diseases in America in 2018, a devastating number that far outpaced the number of deaths for a variety of other common causes of death, including suicides. The deaths were even higher in states with higher percentages of rural areas, including “Rust Belt” states like Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Pennsylvania. Much of this abuse and these issues are tied to abuse of prescription drug misuse: According to a 2015 survey, 11.5 million adults misused some sort of prescription drug in 2015. This, in turn, often leads to heroin use and abuse.

According to other surveys, rural teens were more likely to abuse prescription painkillers than urban or suburban ones. Americans were also more likely to die of an opioid overdose if they lived in a rural section of the country, rather than an urban one. Furthermore, it is also clear that rural Americans have significantly worse access to healthcare than urban or suburban Americans have. As a result, they often find themselves unable to obtain pain relief or have their prescription drugs monitored as they should. They then abuse those drugs or turn to stronger, illicit drugs, like heroin. This, of course, often has tragic and fatal results.

The Drivers Behind This Surge

Opioid abuse can, sadly, be referred to as a “death of despair.” It is one of a series of causes of death, also including alcohol and suicide, which is caused by a massive sense of despair among a population. The statistics are clear: People in rural America have less access to jobs, healthcare, transportation, and other vital amenities that lead to a good quality of life. As a result, they often turn to opioids to cope.

A huge problem for rural Americans is that they lack access to healthcare that suburban or urban Americans are able to obtain. As a result, people become more likely to suffer. Family members often miss the signs of opioid addiction, and by the time they realize what is going on, it may be too late.

Ways to Mitigate Rural America’s Opioid Problem


It will take a huge amount of effort to stop this problem, but fortunately, steps are being taken. Federal, state, and local levels of government have all spent billions of dollars combating this scourage, with a particular emphasis on fighting opioid abuse in rural America. They have done this with a variety of programs, public service announcements, and financial incentives to doctors who practice in primarily rural areas.

However, government funding alone isn’t enough, and advocates in this area have begun to expand their reach, connecting with large rural employers, pharmacies and church groups to help give them the resources to prevent overdoses and help people find the help they need if they are suffering. Furthermore, treatment facilities have begun to understand that rural opioid overdoses are major problems and increase their capacity to serve rural Americans.

As noted above, the simple fact of the matter is that much of rural America’s opioid problem isn’t tied to opioids at all. Opioid abuse, alcoholism, and suicide are all about more than just addiction and sadness: They are reflective of a system that has been stacked against rural Americans. As a result, tragically, far too many turn to drugs and alcohol. This has devastating and fatal consequences, and until the causes behind the massive rise in opioids can be addressed, rural Americans will continue to suffer.

If you are looking for help or are suffering – or know someone who is – please remember that life doesn’t have to be like this. Check out our website, or call us today at 833-762-3739.