Opioid addiction is everywhere, and we all have a role to play fighting it, experts on rural addiction told farmers and ranchers at a workshop at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 100th Annual Convention.
Matt Niswander, a first-generation cattleman and family nurse practitioner from Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, has treated hundreds of patients addicted to opioids in his rural practice. Most addictions, he says, spring not from a moral failing, but physical injuries for which the medical profession has been far too quick to prescribe powerful painkillers that put their users in jeopardy.
“We’re talking about people with legitimate pain problems who start struggling,” he said. Niswander, himself, was admitted to the hospital with two broken wrists. Knowing how dangerous opioids can be, he twice tried to turn down painkillers, but was overruled by a nurse and a physician, each time. Twice in two days he was prescribed 45 tablets of Lortab, a powerful combination of the opioid hydrocodone and acetaminophen. He filled neither prescription, but medical professionals repeatedly insisted he take the medicine.
Matt’s wife, Colbie, has dealt with the burden of addiction through two adopted sons born addicted to opioids – a legacy of birth mothers who themselves were addicted to opioids. The toll on adoptive families, she said, is heavy – not just on the children themselves, but also the parents who suffer knowing their children may need years of rehabilitation to lead productive lives.
Sheri Lou Tate, a farmer from Washington, Utah, is active in addiction recovery efforts. She was previously married to a farmer who was addicted to opioids.
He hid his addiction from her for a long time until she noticed that whenever they would visit the homes of their friends, her husband would excuse himself to use the bathroom. She soon discovered he was rummaging through their medicine cabinets and, often, stealing drugs. Eventually he graduated to burglarizing the homes of people he knew had recently been injured.
She urged farmers and ranchers to learn the signs of addiction. If necessary, she said, they should have a ready supply of Narcan, the anti-overdose drug credited with saving countless lives.
“If you have a family member you’re concerned about, you can get a single dose of Narcan,” she said. “You don’t have to have a prescription. Anyone can use it.”