Washington is filled with memorials that are sobering reminders of our past, and we can’t visit these sights without responding in some way—whether in gratitude for sacrifices made or sorrow over tragic loss. This week, I visited a new memorial as it made a temporary stop in D.C. Like other memorials in this city, you cannot visit this one without being moved to respond, but this memorial does not just look to our past. It is a sobering reminder of our present.
The “Prescribed to Death” memorial remembers the 22,000 people who died from a prescription opioid overdose in 2015. This “every day killer” is devastating our rural areas, with 74 percent of farmers and farm workers saying they have been impacted. I was overwhelmed by the extent of this crisis yet again as I toured the exhibit with National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson and Anne Hazlett, Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development at the Agriculture Department. While the visit was somber, we did not walk away hopeless. We are confident this exhibit, efforts by the administration, and campaigns like Farm Town Strong will help bring light to the many who are struggling in darkness.
Already we are seeing glimmers of hope thanks to our partnership with NFU on Farm Town Strong. We are facing this crisis head on by raising awareness and providing resources to help communities work together. Too often families fight this battle alone, afraid of the shame and stigma addiction carries. We need to remember that opioid addiction is a disease, not a moral weakness. Friends and neighbors can make a world of difference with something as simple as a conversation—creating a safe place for folks to share the struggles they are facing. Recovery is possible, but it is a long road and takes the support of a community.
AFBF and NFU have seen fruit already with the conversation Farm Town Strong has started across our nation’s countryside. We’ve heard how much it means to our farm families and communities to see this epidemic addressed. You’ve told us what kind of resources are most needed, such as treatment and recovery support, and you have responded in compassion to the stories of this crisis. Addiction experts and government officials have also recognized the impact Farm Town Strong has made in raising awareness and providing resources to help overcome the crisis.
We know the only way we will see an end to this epidemic is by neighbors helping neighbors. The Farm Town Strong website is designed to help our rural communities in doing just that. Together with the team at NFU, we have collected resources and information on prevention and treatment of opioid addiction. FarmTownStrong.org is a great tool to help you learn more about the crisis or to direct you in getting help for yourself or a loved one struggling with addiction.
We cannot ignore the crisis that is knocking at our door. The apostle James warned us not to be just hearers but doers. “The one who looks into the perfect law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” When we have heard the truth, we are changed by it and must act. We can act on this crisis by reaching out to our neighbors, and helping lend the support they need to be delivered from this deadly disease.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.