Drug ad­dic­tion treat­ment dif­fi­cult in ru­ral Amer­ica

Record Observer - - Front Page - By CHRISTO­PHER KERSEY ck­ersey@ches­pub.com

CH­ESTER — The drug ad­dict in ru­ral Amer­ica faces spe­cial strug­gles to get help.

Top­ping the list are the stigma of drug ad­dic­tion in small towns and lack of trans­porta­tion to get to treat­ment cen­ters. Then there’s the gen­eral prob­lems: not enough treat­ment cen­ters, lack of money, in­surance doesn’t go far enough, and the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies aren’t play­ing a big enough role.

Those were the is­sues at a round­table dis­cus­sion held on Tues­day, Oct. 18, at the Kent Is­land Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment in Ch­ester. The fo­rum was hosted by the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture to dis­cuss so­lu­tions to the ru­ral opi­oid epi­demic in Mary­land and Delaware and to high­light the crit­i­cal need for more treat­ment re­sources in ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties.

Chair­ing the event was Jeff Eschmeyer, se­nior ad­vi­sor to the Sec­re­tary of U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture. He took notes dur­ing the dis­cus­sion and said, “This will def­i­nitely get back to the sec­re­tary and back to the White House.”

He cited the is­sues par­tic­u­lar to ru­ral Amer­ica, in­clud­ing the lack of treat­ment and re­cov­ery fa­cil­i­ties, trans­porta­tion prob­lems, and the long dis­tances peo­ple must drive to ac­cess treat­ment.

He also noted the stigma the ad­dict faces in a small towns where it’s com­mon to know ev­ery­body, which, he said, “lim­its the peo­ple’s will­ing­ness to come for­ward and get the help they need. It’s not a char­ac­ter flaw. It’s a dis­ease.”

About 26 peo­ple at­tended the fo­rum in­clud­ing of­fi­cials from the USDA, the Farm Ser­vice Agency for Mary­land and Delaware, law en­force­ment of­fi­cers, men­tal health of­fi­cials and com­mu­nity lead­ers.

“It’s a very com­plex prob­lem. It’s very good to see the col­lab­o­ra­tion that’s go­ing on be­tween the depart­ments and dif­fer­ent lead­ers of govern­ment,” Eschmeyer said. The USDA is in­volved in ru­ral Amer­ica, he said, and plays a part in the com­mu­nity to ad­dress the is­sue.

Also in at­ten­dance was Dr. Nancy Rosen-Co­hen, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Coun­cil on Al­co­holism and Drug De­pen­dence, Mary­land chap­ter. She spoke about the need for treat­ment beyond the usual 28-day stay in a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­ter.

“You wouldn’t treat a di­a­betic and get them on in­sulin for only 30 days [but] some of our in­di­vid­u­als with the chronic brain dis­ease of ad­dic­tion may only re­ceive treat­ment for 28 days,” she said.

Linda Slacum, state ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor for the USDA Farm Ser­vice Agency in Mary­land, said the meet­ing’s big point was to bring the part­ners to­gether. “The USDA has a part in solv­ing and help­ing to solve that epi­demic of opi­oid and heroin mis­use in ru­ral Amer­ica,” she said.

Keith Richard­son, clin­i­cal su­per­vi­sor for War­wick Manor, an in­pa­tient treat­ment cen­ter in Dorch­ester County, said the length of stay for im­pa­tient care should be longer and in­surance needs to pay for the proper level of care.

“I want some of the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies to pick up some of this tab,” Richard­son said.

Richard­son, a re­cov­er­ing ad­dict, said drug ad­dic­tion is a home­land se­cu­rity is­sue be­cause of the many coun­tries in­volved in drugs that lead to drug over­doses.

Also in at­ten­dance was Lt. Tim McDon­ald, com­man­der of the state po­lice bar­racks in Cen­tre­ville. He spoke af­ter the meet­ing and said more re­sources and fund­ing are needed to get the ad­dict to treat­ment.

Last Jan­uary, Pres­i­dent Obama ap­pointed Agri­cul­ture Sec­re­tary Tom Vil­sack, who serves as chair of the White House Ru­ral Coun­cil, to lead an in­ter­a­gency ef­fort fo­cused on the spe­cific chal­lenge in ru­ral Amer­ica about drug ad­dic­tion.

Obama has pro­posed $1.1 bil­lion in new fund­ing to sup­port states in ex­pand­ing treat­ment op­tions. Mary­land would be el­i­gi­ble for up to $17 mil­lion and Delaware would be el­i­gi­ble for up to $4 mil­lion over two years to ex­pand ac­cess to treat­ment for opi­oid use disor­ders. Re­cently, Congress passed leg­is­la­tion aimed at ad­dress­ing the cri­sis; how­ever, it did not pro­vide any fund­ing that would ex­pand re­sources.

Each year, more Amer­i­cans die from drug over­doses than in traf­fic ac­ci­dents, and more than three out of five of these deaths in­volved an opi­oid. Since 1999, the num­ber of over­dose deaths in­volv­ing opi­oids, in­clud­ing pre­scrip­tion opi­oid pain re­liev­ers, heroin and fen­tanyl, has nearly quadru­pled.

PHOTO BY CHRISTO­PHER KERSEY

The heroin and pre­scrip­tion opi­oid epi­demic was the topic at a round­table dis­cus­sion hosted by the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture at the Kent Is­land Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment in Ch­ester on Tues­day, Oct. 18.

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