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Pandemic Exacerbates Rural Drug Addiction Epidemic

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Rural America has been hit hard by economic and drug issues. Has the pandemic made it worse? The White House is working with rural communities during the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing substance abuse and addiction. This was a priority in rural Indiana and America before the pandemic, with efforts to increase awareness and access to treatment.

Jim Carroll, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy Director, says in the midst of a pandemic we need more focus on addiction.

“When the COVID pandemic hit, it just further exasperated the concerns, the risks,” he said. “And so, what we wanted to do was to partner with the other federal government agencies, and more importantly, reach out the stakeholders such as American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Association of Counties, and other rural stakeholders, to make sure we heard from them what concerns they had.”

To achieve that, Carroll traveled to rural areas to hear from local stakeholders and address their needs.

“For example, one of the things that happened early on in the pandemic was the realization that is was even harder, and it was hard to begin with in rural America, but it was even harder for folks to access treatment. So, we worked with HHS and a couple other partners to open access for telemedicine. At first, it was to do video chats over the phone, and when we realize that broadband concerns still prevented some of that from occurring, we had them change it to just a phone call so they could just speak to an individual and get them the lifesaving medications.”

Carroll says they also changed the quantity of treatments allowed to take home, and classified treatment centers as healthcare centers, to allow them to get necessary personal protective equipment. Additional measures include allowing doctors to cross state lines to treat patients in rural areas.

Carroll says the focus now is on which actions the administration has made should be permanent.

“What are the lessons learned from the pandemic that will have long-lasting positive impacts for the community. So, we’re talking about making sure that there are more healthcare providers who are able to prescribe some of the lifesaving medications, we’re talking about making sure that communities have access. And, its one of the things that I never thought taking this job that we would be interacting so much with the FCC on broadband issues, but I think the pandemic has showed that it’s necessary to get out there and deal with what American people need, which is ensuring broadband access in rural American. And, I’m blessed to be able to work on an issue that is so bipartisan, it doesn’t matter whether they its a Republican or Democrat, they understand what President Trump is trying to do, they agree with him, they want to make sure that we are getting help to folks out there because they so desperately need it.”

Recently, the White House launched the Rural Community Toolbox online to provide additional resources to Rural America.

“It’s a clearinghouse for community member leaders to go, they can find a variety of funding opportunities, grant making opportunities. They can do an assessment to decide what they think, using objective criteria, are the most needs, and then get assistance from 16 different federal departments and agencies. This was done directly for rural America.”

Carroll adds the first step to getting help for individuals is online as well.

“If you know someone who is suffering from a disease of addiction, go to findtreatment.gov. It is a completely anonymous website, you put in your zip code, there’s all sorts of dropdown choices, they can find the ones in their area and be connected with them. So, that’s one of the most immediate things that we can do. And, of course, I would be remised if I didn’t say, that for people who have addiction, we have to embrace them, we have to recognize that it is a disease. And, I know for family members, they struggle with stigma where other people might judge them, we have to realize that these are all god’s creatures and that we must embrace them, pray for them, put our arm around them, and get them into the treatment that they need.”

Visit findtreatment.gov to find addiction treatment options in your area.