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Treating Addiction in Rural Areas

While drug use and addiction is typically associated with cities, it’s actually rural areas that have been hardest hit by the opioid crisis in recent years. If you look at any map showing fatal overdose rates in the US, it’s immediately obvious that the most affected areas are the least densely populated. The worst areas include West Virginia, along with the rest of Appalachia, New Hampshire and most of New England, and the sparsely populated western states.

The reasons typically cited for this trend include economic depression and high unemployment, which correlate with higher rates of drug use. The lack of treatment options in these areas makes the problem even worse. If you have to drive 30 minutes to get groceries, how far will you have to drive to get Suboxone? Lack of convenient treatment options means people will wait longer to seek treatment, if they seek it at all.

Faced with this predicament, some states and counties are trying ways to reach more residents in need of help. Vermont has developed a hub-and-spoke system, whereby the hub of addiction specialists help people get started in treatment, and cooperating non-specialists help with follow-up care. Vermont has has been able to help many of its residents get treatment through this system, despite its rural, diffuse population.

Vermont is relatively small, though. Its addiction specialists do have to drive a lot, but not as much as they would have to in a large, mountainous state like West Virginia. States where the geography makes travel more difficult have to explore other options. One option may be telemedicine, which allows doctors and patients to meet remotely with addiction specialists. The problem with that approach is doctors can’t prescribe medication remotely.

Another possibility is for states or the federal government to support more doctors training in addiction medicine so they can prescribe Suboxone and other medications. That way, someone seeking treatment could go to her family doctor for help. Doctors, understandably, say they have too much work already without being the only Suboxone dispensary in the county.

Other efforts focus on harm reduction. More first responders are being given the opioid overdose antidote Narcan so they can treat overdoses. In some areas, law enforcement is encouraged to help users get treatment rather than sending them to jail.

There’s no obvious answer for the opioid epidemic in rural America. The states hardest hit also tend to spend the least on social programs and many refused the Medicaid expansion that funded much of Vermont’s program.

For those who can afford it, the best option may be an inpatient program, where they can stay in residence for the full treatment without a long commute. If you or someone you love is struggling with opioid addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox safely and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-325-9168 or email us at to learn more.