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Secretary of Ag Sonny Perdue Weighs in on the Opioid Crisis
SF: What significance does opioid addiction have in the list of issues facing rural America?
SP: As we focus on solutions to build prosperity in rural America, the devastating impact that the opioid epidemic has had on many small towns and rural places cannot be overlooked. Beyond the sheer loss of life, this issue can take a monumental toll on the stability of any community. That challenge is then magnified in a rural area where there are fewer resources to mount an effective response. Perhaps saddest of all is the plight of the most innocent victims: the babies brought into this world already addicted to opioids. This is a problem that strikes across all demographics, all economic conditions, and all regions.
SF: Given the stigma attached to the problem of drug abuse, was it voiced as a concern during your recent Back to Our Roots tour?
SP: In fact, as we have been on the ground and hearing directly from people living in rural America, we hear frequently about the opioid epidemic. This is a quality of life issue, often exacerbated by a lack of economic opportunity, and it is certainly at the forefront of our discussions. In many instances, the challenge of drug use is a reflection of hopelessness about the circumstances surrounding a person’s life. Traveling the country, we are meeting people where they are and learning how we can be a strong partner to families and communities in restoring that vision for a bright future.
SF: What are the USDA’s current plans to address the problem?
SP: The president has recently directed each member of his administration to use all appropriate resources to combat the opioid epidemic, and USDA will rise to that challenge. First and foremost, our department understands the unique challenges in rural America. Beyond that understanding, however, we also have resources to assist communities in addressing this issue both in mounting an immediate response and in tackling some of the underlying drivers such as intergenerational poverty, limited access to quality medical care, and lack of economic opportunity.
SF: What offer of encouragement do you have for farmers and rural Americans facing this issue?
SP: The opioid epidemic knows no boundaries. It has cut through communities of all sizes and families of all socioeconomic backgrounds. One of the greatest keys to its success is isolation and stigma. If your family, your town, or your business has been impacted by this crisis, there is no shame in admitting that there is a problem and you need help. If we rebuild rural America, perhaps we can prevent other families or towns from walking into this same darkness.
SF: Any other comments about how rural America fights the opioid crisis?
SP: As a former governor, I have a strong understanding of the impact substance abuse can have on a community – from loss of life to the tremendous drain on law enforcement, foster care, and health care resources. But, I have also seen how leadership and compassion can be powerful catalysts for broad and transformational improvements. The tragedy this issue may bring to a town can be a turning point in which darkness is flipped into light, where a community sits down to tackle difficult but underlying challenges such as generational poverty, food insecurity, and general despondency. In that, I find great hope and stand ready to be a strong partner in this fight.
More resources: The USDA launched an interactive map of opioid epidemic resources. The map shows the actions rural leaders are taking in small towns across the country to address the opioid epidemic through prevention, treatment, and recovery options.