By Zippy Duvall
The New Year is a time for new beginnings, when we resolve to do better, try harder, and make more of a difference in the lives around us. It’s a chance to renew the commitments we’ve made to help our neighbors and make our communities stronger.
This resolve is what led the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union to team up to increase awareness of a heartbreaking crisis in our nation’s rural communities—opioid abuse. According to a new survey we jointly commissioned with the firm Morning Consult, nearly half of rural Americans say they’ve been affected by opioid abuse, and 74 percent of farmers and farm workers echo that sentiment. Too many of us have seen people we know struggle with addiction personally or with the pain of addiction in their families.
Our nation is facing an opioid epidemic. Rural Americans cannot ignore this crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 91 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose. While we may want to think drug addiction is a big city problem, this crisis is hitting rural America especially hard. The CDC reported this fall that the rate of drug overdose deaths is actually higher in rural areas. It’s time to talk about it, and that is what this AFBF – NFU partnership is about.
These tragic stories often begin with folks accidentally developing an addiction to what they believe are safe painkillers. Even without a prescription, opioids have become too easy to come by. According to our Morning Consult survey, three in four farmers say it would be easy for someone in their community to access a large amount of prescription opioids or painkillers without a prescription.
Opioid addiction is a disease, not a moral weakness. We must help our neighbors struggling with addiction fight this battle, rather than pointing fingers and placing blame. AFBF and NFU are committed to raising awareness and empowering rural communities to access the resources they need to overcome this crisis. And while opioid abuse is a disease, recovery is possible. It may not be quick or easy, but support of the community will be the key to success.
One in three rural adults say there is a great deal of stigma associated with opioid abuse in their local community, and shame only fuels the crisis. It’s our hope the awareness campaign we’re launching with NFU will empower friends and family to have tough, honest conversations—the kind we need to have to bring people out of the shadows and into the treatment they need.
We have to start talking with friends, family—anyone we know who may need help. Folks need to know that they are not alone in this battle. The Apostle John reminded us to love our neighbors, not just with our words but also with our actions. He asked, if anyone “sees a brother in need yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?” The opioid epidemic presents a real need to support to our rural communities. We must resolve to fight this disease by bringing the problem out into the open and helping our neighbors find the hope and healing they so desperately need.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.