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SF Blog: Protect Your Most Important Crop

Substance abuse has ramped up in rural areas. Here are some ideas for how to protect your children.

There’s a joke on a Facebook page about how blind people can tell if they are in a certain small Midwestern town.

“They stand outside and take a deep breath and if they smell anhydrous (ammonia), they can say,  ‘Yep, I am here. I can smell the meth labs.’ ”

I don’t name the town because it actually could be any town in rural America. This blog is about the most important crop you raise — your children — as you and they face the challenge of keeping them from sinking into the deep sea of rural drug use.

A few years ago, a law enforcement friend of mine in South Dakota detailed the methamphetamine infestation in his rural area. “You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a meth lab,” he said.

It’s worsened. Heroin (an opioid) used to be the drug du jour of 1960s rock stars like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Nowadays, though, farm and rural factory workers and their children also shoot up.

“We have been watching dramatic increases in opioid overdoses and deaths and levels of addiction,” said Michael Botticelli, director of national drug control policy under President Barack Obama. “It’s been surprising that we have heroin in parts of the country where we have never had it before.”

Botticelli met last spring with members of the North American Agricultural Journalists, an agricultural media group of which I served as president last year. He’s an interesting fellow. Typically, law enforcement personnel have held the position of drug-control policy. Botticelli has seen the other side of the law. He was arrested in 1988 for drunken driving after being involved in a serious accident in Massachusetts. After having a choice between going to jail or treatment, he opted for treatment. He has been sober ever since. He stressed the importance of treatment over incarceration for substance abuse during his White House stint.  

Why Rural Areas?

Tough economics play a part. Residents in economically distressed rural areas feel a sense of hopelessness that they somehow feel drugs can soothe, Botticelli explained. Even if they receive treatment for addiction, he said they see little to go back to.

Strangely, the sharing nature of rural culture also plays a part. Drug abuse often starts by sharing prescription pain meds that also are opioids. This can gradually snowball into heroin use.

Botticelli noted that data show a large percentage of people who overuse pain medication get them free from family and friends.

“That’s why drug take-back days are so important,” he said. “Oftentimes, people don’t take all their (prescribed) medications, and they are put back in medicine cabinets.”

Access to insurance for treatment is another factor. That’s becoming sketchier with the looming repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) and its replacement — if one is enacted — up in the air.

Federal dollars for treatment and economic development could help. The 21st Century Cures Act, signed by President Barack Obama last month, contains provisions to fight the opioid epidemic.

Civil Rights Don’t Apply Here

There’s only so much, though, that any government can do. Home life plays a big role. Some of you may remember Carroll O’Connor, who played the irascible Archie Bunker in 1970s All in the Family television show before later playing a Southern sheriff in The Heat of the Night in the 1980s and 1990s.

His career success, though, was haunted by his son Hugh’s 1995 suicide after a long drug addiction battle.

“Nothing will give me any peace,” he said before he died. “I've lost a son, and I'll go to my grave without any peace over that. There isn’t a day that I don’t think of him and want him back and miss him, and I’ll feel that way until I’m not here anymore.”

How would he have done things differently? His advice then is as relevant today. The only thing you’d have to add is monitoring a social media account.  

“I should have spied on him,” he said. “I should’ve taken away all his civil rights, spied on him, opened his mail, listened to telephone calls, everything.”

These are far from the production practices you have for crops. They won’t make you popular with your children. You’ll probably be called everything from Hitler to Putin. Yet, investments you make to keep drugs and addiction at bay are the best use of time you’ll ever make for your most important crop. 

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