On the Rise of Non-Heroin Opiate Addiction in Southwest Virginia

prescription_drugsLand health means nothing to us if people cannot be sustained upon it. And not merely sustained: the land cannot be tended and used well if the communities living there are enslaved by addiction.

We saw in The Local Costs of Meth in Montgomery County, Virginia that drug addiction affects whole communities. In addition to the psychosocial impact on friends, family members, and the addicts themselves, addiction results in high costs to taxpayers due to busts, cleanup, and incarceration.

But meth is not the only drug destabilizing rural communities today. Since the 90s, non-heroin opiates have been increasingly popular in rural areas. We have several indications of this problem:

  1. Drugs such as Oxycontin have been marketed more aggressively in rural areas than urban, particularly rural Appalachia. Prescriptions for opioids have increased throughout the country, but per capita sales data shows that states with the highest rural populations, such as West Virginia, have among the highest number of sales of opioid painkillers.
  2. Studies on treatment programs tell us that abuse of non-medical prescription opiates has been on the rise in rural America for over a decade. According to a 2012 survey of treatment programs in Southwest Virginia, “Virginia has a long history of prescription drug diversion and abuse and was one of the first states to record extraordinary levels of Oxycontin diversion and abuse.” One treatment center reported using 770 doses of methadone in 2003, 1912 in 2004, “and year to date (March), [already] 1293 doses of pharmaceuticals.”
  3. Nationally representative surveys have indicated that, in rural areas, not only are there higher mortality and injury rates but also adolescents are more likely to use prescription opioids non-medically than are their urban counterparts. These surveys also report that factors such as polydrug use and depression are associated with non-medical opioid use in rural areas. Source: American Public Health Association
  4. We also know that death and injury from misuse of these drugs is most common in states with large rural populations (i.e. Kentucky, West Virginia, Alaska, and Oklahoma). A 2013 study examining differences in drug use between urban and rural areas found that, “opioid poisonings in nonmetropolitan counties have increased at a rate greater than threefold the increase in metropolitan counties.”

Given these indications of widespread prescription opioid addiction, we investigated the possibility of opening a Suboxone clinic as one of the Rural System Groups. Suboxone is an evidence-based medication treatment known for reducing crime and illegal opioid use. Read on to find out what’s needed to start a clinic.

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About Laurel Sindewald

Laurel is an alumna of Warren Wilson College with a BS in Conservation Biology and a BA in Philosophy. She is a writer for Rural System, Inc.

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