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Farm Bureau, Farmers Union team up to confront rural opioid addiction

WASHINGTON — Seventy five percent of farmers and farm workers surveyed in conjunction with an online study say they are or have been directly impacted by opioid abuse — compared to less than half of all rural residents. Only 31 percent of all survey respondents indicated they know that rural communities are affected most by the opioid crisis.

The online survey of 2,201 rural adults in October 2017 was conducted by Morning Consult on behalf of American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union.

To confront the issue further, the American Farm Bureau Foundation and National Farmers Union — two often-rival farm groups — have teamed up to launch a new campaign: Farm Town Strong. The campaign's goal is to raise awareness of the opioid crisis' impact on farming communities, to provide resources and information to help farm communities and to encourage farmer-to-farmer support to overcome the crisis.

The campaign's website, FarmTownStrong.org, will provide information and resources on the subject. The two organizations also will hold public events and launch a social media campaign, #FarmTownStrong, to highlight the crisis and share resources. AFBF President Zippy Duvall and NFU President Roger Johnson will lead a discussion entitled Overcoming the Rural Opioid Crisis Through Unity on Jan. 8, at the 2018 AFBF Annual Convention & IDEAg Trade Show in Nashville, Tenn.

"Farm country has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic — even harder than rural America as a whole or big cities," Duvall said in a statement. "It's going to take everyone working together to combat this crisis to make a difference. That's why Farm Bureau and Farmers Union are teaming up to show unity on this issue and encourage farm families to help their neighbors. If you or a family member has been affected by opioid addiction, it's important to talk about it so that others will know they are not fighting this alone."

"Opioid addiction — along with all of its consequences — is a silent, but very real, crisis for our farming communities," NFU President Roger Johnson said in a statement. "The lack of services, treatment and support exacerbates the issue in rural areas, and the negative stigma associated with addiction makes it hard for farmers to discuss the problem. Too often, those struggling with addiction and their family members don't seek the support they need. Through the Farm Town Strong campaign, we're tackling this crisis head-on by encouraging more dialogue, more information sharing, and more farmer-to-farmer engagement."

Among the farmers and farm workers who responded to the survey, 27 percent indicated they knew someone who is or has been addicted to opioids or prescription painkillers; 25 percent said they have a family member who is or has been addicted to the substances; 10 percent said they themselves have taken an opioid or prescription painkiller without a prescription; and 16 percent said they themselves have abused or been addicted to the substances.

The survey also asked about ways to address the issue. While 45 percent of respondents overall indicated reducing stigma surrounding addiction would help, 48 percent of farmers and farm workers and 43 percent of people who work in agriculture indicated they believed increasing the shame and stigma surrounding opioid abuse would be most effective, compared to 38 percent and 40 percent of those groups, respectively, who thought shame and stigma should be decreased.

Agweek is interested in telling the stories of those in rural areas affected by addictions to opioids and other substances. If you are willing to talk about your experiences, please contact Jenny Schlecht at 701-595-0425 or jschlecht@agweek.com.

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