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Addiction Treatment for Rural Communities

Addiction Treatment for Rural Communities

Rates of drug abuse and addiction are surprisingly high in rural communities. There are a variety of factors that contribute to this phenomenon, not the least of which is a lack of addiction treatment resources and options for rural residents. In a Carsey Institute Report on Rural America entitled Substance Abuse in Rural and Small Town America Karen Van Gundy of the University of New Hampshire lists among other factors, “limited access to services and weak infrastructure” as contributing to rural drug addiction. Dr. Jennifer Havens, PhD, of the University of Kentucky, supports this view stating that while increased access to health, mental health and substance abuse treatment represent important, “potential targets for intervention…this may be difficult for rural areas where such resources are in short supply or nonexistent.” The Carsey Institute has found that the states with the highest alcohol abuse and addiction rates also have the “greatest unmet need” for alcohol addiction treatment and that these states also tend to be the most rural.

Traditional Attitudes May Present a Barrier to Treatment

In addition to a general lack of treatment facilities in rural areas traditional attitudes and values of rural communities may also present a barrier to effective addiction treatment. Rural communities are typically self-sufficient which can be an admirable and desirable trait. However this can also lead to reluctance to seek help when it is truly needed. There is also a lingering stigma about addiction treatment and mental health services. This attitude prevails in many communities but may be especially prevalent in rural areas. More conservative and traditional-minded rural residents may fear being seen as weak or needing help. People in small rural communities also typically know one another, and some in need of addiction treatment may fear word getting out that they are drug addicts or that they have a mental health disorder.

Recommendations for Community Approaches to Drug Addiction

Rural residents need to draw on the characteristics that make their communities strong to combat the epidemic of drug abuse and addiction. The first thing that rural communities need to do is to accept the fact that addiction is a disease that can happen to anyone and is not a moral issue or a sign of weakness. There is no shortage of evidence that supports this fact. A good place to start is the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) which provides detailed information on the disease of addiction, its consequences and the best methods of treatment. Once rural people and communities accept this fact they can begin to see addiction in its true light as a disease that requires treatment just like any other disease, and the stigma associated with needing addiction treatment should disappear.

Rural communities must consider their own unique characteristics and draw on their particular strengths in combatting drug abuse. Dr. Ruth Edwards, PhD, of the Tri-Ethnic Center for Prevention Research, Colorado State University, stresses the fact that “rural communities vary considerably” and that addiction prevention, intervention and treatment strategies should be tailored to the specific needs of the individual community. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recommends that a rural community first identify the particular drugs that are most prevalent in the community and then target treatment resources to treating addiction to that particular drug or drugs. Some communities have a bigger problem with alcohol while others suffer more from addiction to painkillers or methamphetamine. SAMHSA also advises focusing limited public health resources on addiction education, prevention and intervention to reduce rates of drug abuse and addiction in the first place.

The Carsey Institute expands on this recommendation by advising rural communities to draw on, “the strengths already in place in rural areas” including large extended families, close interpersonal relationships, familiarity among residents and strong religious faith. The Institute also stresses the need to revise traditional views on addiction and treatment and recommends addiction education that targets not only children and teenagers but all elements of the community. They recommend using a multi-faceted approach to the problem. Anything that will improve the economic outlook of rural communities, strengthen community ties, improve education and reduce the despair associated with economic hardship will go a long way toward reducing rates of drug abuse and addiction. They recommend moving away from a “law and order” approach to the problem and toward funding programs that will help rural families make a living, save money and invest in the future. The Carsey Institute states that “stable jobs sustain stable families.” Rural residents who are concerned about drug abuse in their communities need to become more politically active and work with law enforcement, public health officials and local government. The Institute has also reprinted an article entitled Citizens Lock Arms against Meth in Kirksville Missouri which details a community-based response to addiction and may serve as a model and an inspiration for other communities faced with similar problems.

The National Library of Medicine asserts that “community infrastructure should be enhanced to support substance abuse prevention and intervention” in rural communities, while the National Center for Biotechnology Information offers information regarding designing and implementing prevention and intervention strategies that take into account the “unique characteristics” of rural communities.

Finding Addiction Treatment for Rural Residents

Although addiction treatment is scarce in rural areas, traveling for treatment is often the best choice even when local options are available. Many treatment facilities offer residential inpatient treatment so that patients will not have to travel long distances regularly during the course of their treatment. If you need access to addiction recovery resources, call us. We can help you find the best treatment options for your situation and can answer any other questions you may have. Our number is toll free, and we are available 24 hours a day.