After five years of outreach and education by farm groups, a new poll shows increased awareness and willingness to talk about the opioid crisis among rural adults, compared to 2017. Sixty percent say adults in their community are more aware of the crisis than they were five years ago, and nearly 8 in 10 adults (77%) report feeling comfortable having a conversation about opioids. 

However, the survey of 2,000 rural adults, conducted by Morning Consult in October, also reveals that more rural adults believe there is a higher rate of opioid misuse in rural communities than in the rest of the country (urban and suburban areas), compared to five years ago. The percentage of rural adults who say they know someone who is or has been addicted to opioids or prescription painkillers remains close to half.

Arizona saw the importance of addressing the opioid crisis in rural Arizona as early as 2017 when the Arizona Department of Agriculture had its livestock officers trained to administer Narcan, or naloxone, a medication designed to rapidly reverse an opioid overdose.

At the time, Mark Killian, the agency's director, explained that livestock officers were receiving training to allow them to carry Narcan nose spray, an anti-opioid treatment for overdoses. He said the move would help in remote rural areas where officers regularly visit.

"Officers are in places in Arizona that very few if any of the law-enforcement officers go," Killian had said at the time in the Arizona Republic. "The opioid crisis is not just in urban areas, it's all over the state. It's a plague."

“The opioid crisis has been a dark cloud over farming communities for far too long,” American Farm Bureau (AFBF) President Zippy Duvall said. “We are pleased this new poll shows encouraging signs when it comes to reducing stigma and feeling prepared for tough conversations about addiction, but it also shows that we have more work to do. We remain committed to working with National Farmers Union (NFU) and other partners to advance a healthy farm state of mind.” 

To help increase awareness of mental healthcare resources, AFBF and NFU have consistently worked to publicize and compile useful material to help address rural stress, mental health challenges and opioid misuse. 

“As farmers and ranchers, we are proud to look out for our families and neighbors. Collectively we need to continue to educate ourselves about the impacts of mental health and opioid use in our communities,” NFU President Rob Larew said. “We must continue to reduce the stigma to connect our loved ones with health care and treatment they may need. I thank AFBF for being a teammate on this project, and the survey results show what is possible when farm organizations work together.”

While survey responses indicate that 40% of rural adults say it is easy for someone in their community to access a large amount of prescription opioids without a medical need, this is a six-percentage point decrease from 2017. 

Survey results also reinforced the need for systemic solutions to the opioid crisis, including increased access to addiction treatment programs and increased access to mental healthcare, as well as monitoring how much and how often doctors prescribe painkillers. 

To understand how Narcan, or naloxone, reverses an overdose, it binds to opioid receptors, then reverses and blocks the effects of the opioids, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Additional survey results are available here