prescription pills spilling on an American flag Stuart Ritchie/iStock/Thinkstock

Opioid crisis hitting farmers

Joint survey from AFBF and NFU shows massive opioid impact in farm country.

The opioid crisis has struck farm and ranch families much harder than the rest of rural America, a Morning Consult survey shows.

While just under half of rural Americans say they have been directly affected by opioid abuse, 74% of farmers and farm workers say they have. Three in four farmers say it would be easy for someone in their community to access opioids illegally, and just under half of rural adults – 46% – say the same.

The poll, sponsored by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the National Farmers Union (NFU), is a first step in the groups’ collaboration on this issue.

“We’ve known for some time that opioid addiction is a serious problem in farm country, but numbers like these are heartbreaking,” AFBF president Zippy Duvall said. “Opioids have been too easy to come by and too easy to become addicted to. That’s why we are urging everyone we know to talk to their friends, family, co-workers – anyone at all they know or suspect needs help. And because opioid addition is a disease, it’s up to all of us to help people who suffer from it and help them find the treatment they need. Government cannot and will not fix this on its own. Rural communities are strong. The strengths of our towns can overcome this crisis.”

“The opioid crisis is not just some talking point or abstract issue; it is an enormous challenge for both rural and urban America, and we, as a country, need to come to grips with it,” NFU president Roger Johnson said. “These responses demonstrate the reach of the unrelenting and deadly crisis that is gripping farm families across the country. Farm and rural communities currently face major challenges in the fight against addiction, like access to services, treatment and support. Time and time again, farmers and ranchers have come together to help their families and their neighbors through challenging situations. That same resolve and compassion will help us break the grips of opioid addiction in rural America.”

Half of farmers and farm workers (50%) say addiction to opioids is a disease rather than a lack of willpower. Rural adults overwhelmingly (75%) recognize that opioid abuse can begin accidentally with the use of what are deemed safe painkillers, or opioids.

The survey found that three in four farmers (77%), as well as those who work in agriculture generally (76%), say it would be easy for someone in their community to access a large amount of prescription opioids or painkillers without a prescription.

Rural adults are largely unaware (31%) that rural communities are affected the most by the opioid crisis. They also believe opioid abuse is a major problem in urban communities more so than in rural communities by a 10-point margin (57% versus 47%).

One in three rural adults (34%) say it would be easy to access treatment for addiction to prescription drugs or heroin in their local community, but less than half (38%) are confident that they could seek care that is either effective, covered by insurance, convenient or affordable.

One in three rural adults (31%) say there is a great deal of stigma associated with opioid abuse in their local community, and 32% say the stigma of abuse and addiction contributes a great deal to the opioid crisis.

“There is a stigma of people being ashamed to go seek out help, and we want to tell them that we understand that this is a sickness, and we want them to find help to help their families through it,” Duvall said. “So, we’re trying to bring awareness to the availability of finding help for people that need it.”

The survey found that a majority of rural Americans believe that increasing public education regarding resources (68%) and reducing the shame or stigma surrounding opioid addiction (57%) are effective means for solving the opioid crisis.

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