The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced that their agency, mostly known for food and farming, is starting to address the national opioid epidemic. This week representatives from USDA will meet in Salt Lake City to learn about how the problem is affecting the Mountain West.
According to the USDA’s Anne Hazlett, America’s opioid crisis is disproportionately affecting rural communities – the very communities her department has relationships with. That’s why USDA is in a good position to be involved.
"We also have a unique role in looking at what is happening upstream in these communities that have made these places more vulnerable to this crisis. Things like lack of economic opportunity, access to health care, isolation," Hazlett said.
Hazlett is the Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development. On Wednesday she’ll be meeting with local health care leaders.
Last week USDA announced $5 million in grants to build treatment and recovery programs. Another grant will promote funding for telemedicine programs like video calls with therapists to rural communities. Hazlett says the need for addiction treatment programs in sparsely populated western states creates challenges that are different from other rural areas.
"In addition to the remote nature of the counties, I think as we look at much of our response in rural communities may hinge on technology, that broadband connection," Hazlett said.
The roundtable this week is geared towards listening to health experts so USDA can plan for the rollout of their programs.