In small towns, suburban neighborhoods and big cities, our nation is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis of drug addiction. In 2017, nearly 200 people each day died due to a drug overdose. While no corner of our country has escaped the devastation of this epidemic, rural America has been hard hit.
I recently spent a day in southeast Oklahoma to learn firsthand about the impact that addiction is having on small towns and rural places. Traveling with United States Sen. James Lankford, I met with local elected officials, health care providers, law enforcement officers and families in three communities to discuss the toll drugs are taking on their hometowns, and to find ways to partner in building local solutions.
In places like Henryetta, a farming and oil community with just over 5,600 people, local sheriff’s deputies report that this crisis is draining the already limited resources for public safety. Farther south in Poteau, the rural health care clinic has no local treatment options to help the people who are struggling with addiction.
Small towns like Henryetta and Poteau are not alone. A 2017 survey by the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union found that nearly 50 percent of rural adults and 74 percent of farmers have been impacted by the misuse of opioids. To reverse course and ensure that rural America continues to be a place of prosperity for agriculture, manufacturing and small business for generations to come, President Donald Trump’s administration is taking bold action and do things differently than has been done in the past. We must be relentless in our mission to save lives.
The Trump administration has deployed an all-hands-on-deck approach to make critical resources available to rural communities, to fuel locally led efforts to combat this crisis. Last year, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, teamed up with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to compile a federal rural resource guide to help rural leaders navigate the many federal programs available to address the addiction crisis in small towns.
Additionally, the Trump administration is helping rural communities in agricultural states like Missouri, Texas and South Dakota access addiction treatment and other mental health resources through its telemedicine and broadband infrastructure programs.
President Trump awarded a record number of Drug-Free Communities Program grants to support local grassroots coalitions focused on preventing youth substance use. These funds will assist leaders in small towns like Wellington, Kansas, and Claremore, Oklahoma, protect our children from the scourge of addiction.
As we step up to do even more to assist small towns, we can fill the gaps in rural communities around prevention, treatment, and recovery. We are enhancing the quality of life in small towns. By creating an environment in which agriculture and the rural economy can thrive and reach their full potential, we are ensuring opportunity for young people to stay in their hometown.
Working with key partners, President Trump’s administration is filling the gaps in rural communities around prevention, treatment, and recovery. We are investing in economies and communities in small towns and instilling hope for children who grow up in those communities.
For generations, rural communities have endured and triumphed over considerable challenges. In this battle against drug addiction, the stakes could not be higher, and the Trump administration believes in the future of rural America and the strength of small towns. Together, we can defeat the crisis of addiction and build strong, healthy, and drug-free communities now and for generations to come.
—Jim Carroll is the U.S. drug czar.