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Watch for Addiction, Suicide Warning Signs

As National Farm Safety & Health Week continues, learn how to spot and get help for those struggling with opioid addiction or having suicidal thoughts.

Rural Americans are at a greater risk of opioid addiction and suicide than their urban counterparts. It’s important for everyone to pay attention to those around them, be aware of the signs that there may be a problem, and be willing to reach out to the person struggling or seek outside help for them.

The opioid crisis is hitting rural America hard, with drug overdose death rates surpassing urban rates. A December 2017 survey by the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation found that nearly three-quarters of farmers have been directly impacted. Nationwide, nearly 200 people die from a drug overdose each day, according to USDA, and a majority of those deaths involve an opioid.

Opioid addiction generally starts with a prescription for oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, or another opioid to control pain after an injury or surgery. That can lead to taking more pills to avoid withdrawal symptoms. When the prescription pills are no longer available, patients who have become addicted may seek other ways to get high, from buying pills illegally to taking heroin.

Warning signs of addiction include still using prescription pain medication two to three months after surgery or an injury, running out of prescription pain medicines earlier than expected, borrowing or buying pain medicines from friends or strangers, and irritability or anger when asked about the situation.

The best way to prevent legally prescribed opioids from falling into the wrong hands or from being taken by the patient longer than necessary is to immediately dispose of pills once the pain management course is complete. This online tool locates the nearest public disposal location by zip code or city.

If you or a loved one is struggling with opioid addiction, call the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services hotline at 800/662-4357. This is a free, confidential service. If the person affected is underinsured or has no insurance, the hotline will share information on state-funded treatment programs.

Addiction, Stress, Other Factors Increase Suicide Risk

Whether it’s due to opioid addiction, overwhelming stress, financial worries, family troubles, or a plethora of other reasons, farmers are also at an increased risk for suicide. Family, friends, and even casual acquaintances can identify and help someone who may be struggling.

“You may notice a person isn’t wanting to go to church, or out to the movies with friends, or play bingo anymore,” says Jami Dellifield, an educator with Ohio State University Extension. “If someone is finding excuses not to do things that used to be a very integral part of life and is shutting off from friends, you should reach out.” If a person is battling depression, he or she may also exhibit anger, sadness, body aches, and lethargy. 

She suggests asking the person to go for a walk or car ride to get a cup of coffee, because it’s easier to have serious conversations side-by-side rather than face-to-face. If you’re struggling for the right words, she says, “Just say, ‘I’m really concerned about you. I’ve noticed you haven’t been yourself. Is there something bothering you or something you’d like to talk about?’”

If you fear someone may be suicidal, Dellifield suggests being direct and simply asking if he or she is contemplating suicide. “If the person says yes, then ask if there’s a plan,” she says. “If the person has immediate access to carry out the plan, you should encourage him or her to go with you to the hospital. Don’t ever leave the person alone. If you feel he or she is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 and let the rescue squad know about any plans. Always err on the side of safety.”

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800/273-8255. If texting is preferred, text HOME to 741741 for free crisis support 24 hours a day in the U.S.


The third week in September is recognized as National Farm Safety & Health Week. The National Safety Council and the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety head up the effort to develop and disseminate educational materials leading up to and throughout the week.

This year, the theme of National Farm Safety & Health Week is Shift Farm Safety Into High Gear. Monday, the focus was on tractor and rural roadway safety. Wednesday will focus on youth safety and health, Thursday confined spaces in agriculture, and Friday safety and health for women in agriculture. Webinars on these topics will be available each day through a partnership with AgriSafe at The webinars are free but do require a free AgriSafe account.

More information on National Farm Safety & Health Week, including several safety videos, is available at

National Farm Safety & Health Week 2019
Monday: Brush up on Rural Roadway Safety

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