White House launches community action guide on rural America substance abuse
The White House has released a new guide aimed at helping rural communities fight drug addiction. (Office of National Drug Control Policy)
The White House Office of National Drug Control Policy today launched the release of its “Rural Community Action Guide: Building Stronger, Healthy, Drug-Free Rural Communities” with an event in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House.
The 93-page guide filled with ideas about how communities can discourage substance abuse and work to help people with substance use disorder represents several years of information gathering by Anne Hazlett, a former Capitol Hill aide who became Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s assistant for rural development and later moved to the White House as senior adviser for rural affairs in the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
In opening remarks, Hazlett noted that some of the attendees had worked on the substance abuse issue all their professional lives while others “jumped from farm policy” into drug issues because someone in their communities had become addicted.
Hazlett said she held a series of roundtables in the states to learn about addiction and how the Trump administration could be “a strong partner” in efforts to address the problem. Those meetings, she said led to a focus on “what is working” and the publication of the guide.
Speaker after speaker emphasized that stigma of substance abuse in rural areas is a barrier to people seeking treatment and recovery.
Jim Carroll, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said that he had told President Donald Trump he was “blessed” to have gotten a family member into treatment, but that many people in rural America do not get help because services are not available.
But Carroll emphasized that he believes the most effective solutions are not in Washington, the White House, at the Health and Human Services Department or on Capitol Hill, but in communities. Speaker after speaker also said that solutions have to be local because the most problematic drugs vary from place to place, as do the treatment facilities and transportation and housing options.
Surgeon General Jerome Adams noted that he has a brother who is in prison for crimes committed in relationship to his addiction, and said that when he gets out, he is likely to return to his family farm in rural Maryland. If he goes back to drugs and overdoses, Adams said, the family will not call his office, but 911, and his survival will depend on whether those local service providers know what to do.
Rep. John Joyce, R-Pa., whose large rural district is south central Pennsylvania has been beset by drug abuse and related deaths, said that addiction is particularly devastating to the children whose parents and grandparents are dealing with the problem.
The drug crisis must be addressed “from all different angles,” including treatment and enforcement, Joyce said.
The House, he noted, passed a bill on Wednesday that would temporarily extend the Drug Enforcement Administration’s class-wide ban on all variants of the powerful synthetic drug fentanyl. The Senate has already passed the bill and it will now go to Trump for his signature. just before the DEA’s temporary powers on fentanyl analogues expire on February 6.
Joyce said Congress should ban the fentanyl analogues permanently, but criminal justice reform groups and researchers have questioned that idea.
Throughout the event the importance of local cultures and economic conditions in addressing substance abuse was apparent.
Adams, the surgeon general, said that housing, a job and access to the Internet are vital for recovery.
Adams, who was appointed Indiana health commissioner by then-Gov. Mike Pence, built his reputation on addressing HIV infections among drug addicts in rural Scott County, Ind. He noted that if he had quickly opened a syringe exchange, a local sheriff would have arrested people who came to use it, but that by consulting with local people the community was able to make the program a success.
Adams also pointed out the importance of involving faith leaders. In Scott County, he said, “I couldn’t find a doctor, but I could throw a rock and hit a church.”
–The Hagstrom Report