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Opinion: Opioid crisis hitting farmers hard

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In 2016, 908 of our fellow Missourians died of opioid overdoses.

Nationwide, over 64,000 Americans died of drug overdoses, and nearly two-thirds of these were caused by opioids. Opioids and their synthetic cousins are not just the next drug in a long line of problematic drugs – this time the problem is much worse.

The drug overdose rate is more than four times as high now as it was during the height of the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic that gave rise to the war on drugs. The Missouri State Highway Patrol estimates that for every 100 prescriptions written, 80 of them are for opioids. The scope of this problem is hard to believe.

While most previous widespread drug crises have been relatively confined to urban areas, the opioid epidemic is far more serious in many poor rural areas than urban and suburban areas.

Even more troubling for Farm Bureau members is that this crisis seems to be taking aim directly at those involved in agriculture. An October 2017 Morning Consult survey found that while only 45 percent of rural adults say they have been directly impacted by the opioid epidemic, this number skyrockets to 74 percent among farmers and farmworkers.

The Missouri Farm Bureau is dedicated to bringing awareness to the opioid abuse epidemic and directing rural Missourians to resources to get help. One in three rural adults say there is a great deal of stigma associated with opioid abuse in their local community, according to the same Morning Consult survey. As long as people are not comfortable seeking help, we will struggle to get the opioid problem in check and prevent unnecessary deaths.

The causes of this epidemic are numerous and intertwined. No single action will solve it. However, we are beginning to see some progress in fighting back.

Naloxone, also known as Narcan, is a nose spray that works like an antidote to almost instantly reverse the effects of an opioid overdose. The spray binds to opioid receptors and very quickly restores normal respiration to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped as a result of overdosing. Law enforcement agencies and first responders are beginning to carry doses of naloxone to stop overdoses in progress, which is already saving hundreds of lives.

There are many other ways to fight this scourge. Missouri’s Department of Mental Health maintains a list of medication drop boxes to dispose of unneeded medications, as well as a list of opioid treatment facilities. Doctors are training to reduce overprescription and abuse of prescriptions. Substance abuse hotlines are open 24/7 for people who need help.

Every county Farm Bureau office has a list of resources for friends or family members of someone struggling with opioid addiction. If you or someone you know needs help, do not wait for another number to be added to the statistics. Find out where to get support today and help end this crisis now.

Eric Bohl is director of public affairs for Missouri Farm Bureau in Columbia. He can be reached at publicaffairs@mofb.com.

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