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Opioid Use in the Suburbs and Rural Areas 

Years ago, heroin use was primarily an inner-city problem. In the 21st century, however, opioid use has increasingly moved to suburban and rural areas. The effects are just as devastating when heroin hits the suburbs as they are in large cities. Opioid drugs, such as heroin, oxycodone, OxyContin, and other painkillers and narcotics can destroy lives, families and communities.

Has Opioid Abuse Moved Out of Cities?

It is important not to dismiss opioid abuse in large cities—the inner city drug problem is still prevalent and booming. However, rural areas such as West Virginia, Ohio, Alaska, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and more are seeing a sharp rise in opioid and heroin addiction, overdose and deaths in the last ten years.

Opioid use in inner cities is still thriving, but it does appear that the problems in rural America are growing, Misuse of prescription painkillers (narcotics) and heroin has grown to epic proportions. The Centers for Disease Control reported that deaths in rural areas are now 45% higher than similar deaths in urban areas. Yes, less than 10% of all nationwide opioid treatment programs are located in these areas of high need.

Why is Opioid Use Growing So Quickly in Rural Areas?

The alarming statistics related to opioid and heroin use in rural areas brings several key issues to light:

Financial Stressors in Rural Areas: The United States of America experienced a great recession only a few years ago. Rural America has struggled to rebound. Unemployment in small towns has continued to decline. With falling incomes, businesses have been forced to close, schools have suffered, and community resources have dwindled. Lowered incomes make moving away from rural areas more difficult, moving to safer neighborhoods more difficult, and seeing hope for future improvement more difficult, as well. Addiction and substance use are not a moral failing—stress and emotional distress often contribute to substance use. Chronic fears over employment or finances may prompt individuals to want to escape, even temporarily, through substance use. While opiates and opioids may provide some initial release from anxiety, they make the situation worse over time.

Young Adults Are Returning Home: Rising college tuitions and shrinking job markets are creating great stress among young people. Young adults are moving back home to live more affordable lifestyles, and this may often mean returning home to rural areas to live with parents, even without any local job prospects. The combination of young adulthood, along with frustration over employment and lack of activities may contribute to experimentation in substance use.

Increased Social Connections: Interestingly, people in smaller towns tend to actually communicate in-person with a wider range of people than those in urban areas. Smaller cities and towns mean that there will be greater face-to face communication. Families and acquaintances tend to know each other, or know of each other. This makes finding drugs easier, and it facilitates the exchange of opioids among “trusted” friends or family members.

Greater Opioid Prescribing in Rural Areas: Individuals in rural areas tend to work in more physically demanding jobs. Many U.S. factories are located in rural and suburban areas. Manual labor jobs require a great deal of physical movement and activity that may result in injury. Injuries and muscle or joint surgeries that result from years of physical work often result in opioid prescriptions. This only furthers the supply in these rural areas.

Lack of Treatment Options: Lack of funding for high-tech surgical and alternative treatments for chronic pain lead to less options for pain treatment in rural areas. Opioid prescribing has been a go-to option for many doctors, especially if patients must quickly return to work in jobs that are labor-intensive. Jobs in mining, manufacturing, and agriculture often lead to chronic pain or injuries. When treatment options are limited, patients may begin an addiction with a legitimate prescription, and they may not be aware that there are more advanced treatment options. To make matters worse, there is a dire shortage of addiction rehab facilities in rural areas. Economic distress makes it more difficult to travel for treatment, so many people suffer at home.

Opioid Addiction Help

It’s important to educate yourself on how and when the opioid epidemic started here in the United States. Take a look at this timeline and see how you can contribute to breaking the stigma of addiction.

You don’t have to struggle with an opioid addiction without hope. Treatment can be more affordable than you think, even if it involves some travel. Our confidential helpline is available every day, 24 hours a day, to help callers in-need. Please call today to find out more about opioid recovery, family counseling, affordable rehab options, and opioid detox.



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