New Programs Aimed at Appalachian Opioid Crisis

The Appalachian region may finally be getting the opiate help it desperately needs.

A crushing avalanche is crippling Appalachian communities, but it’s not the mountainous disaster you might think. This avalanche is a deadly onslaught of opioids.

In 2014, the seven Appalachian states accounted for more than a fifth of nationwide opioid-related deaths. West Virginia, with a population of 1.85 million, has the highest overdose rate in the nation.

Why the Appalachian Region?

What’s going on in this misty-mountain region? Experts cite poverty and a lack of resources as attributing causes to these alarming numbers. The Appalachian counties hit hardest with the opioid epidemic have a median household income that is half of the national rate – and they have twice as many people living below the poverty line.

Dr. Carl R. Sullivan III, addiction services director at West Virginia University School of Medicine, points out that many employees in this region are blue-collar workers. In these types of jobs, there are simply a lot of injuries. This leads to painkillers, which leads to opioid abuse. Combine this with the lack of workers in the area to treat addiction and you get rising numbers of overdose deaths.

Avalanche Control

In response to these crushing statistics, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration have teamed up to launch a new initiative. The funding opportunity, “HIV, HCV and Related Comorbidities in Rural Communities Affected by Opioid Injection Drug Epidemics in the United States: Building Systems for Prevention, Treatment and Control” is focused on finding solutions to the opioid crisis in rural regions, especially Appalachia.

The goal is to partner with local and state communities to implement best practices in these rural communities that currently suffer from a lack of resources. Less-populated areas often suffer due to fewer public health services, limited public transportation and fewer treatment options. Often, these areas have fewer experienced healthcare professionals and a lack of healthcare networks. These meager resources add to the challenge of fighting the opioid epidemic. All of this adds up to increased drug use and staggering rates of overdose.

In addition to the main initiative, four other awards were issued this year to improve research-driven interventions. The grants are designed to fund studies that will help combat the health consequences of drug abuse in Appalachia. The research includes efforts to improve conditions for opioid users after prison, as well as evaluations of the healthcare systems in Appalachia.

The goal is to gain a better understanding of what changes need to be made, then implement those changes. The hope is to bring much-needed assistance to the people of Appalachia and stop the escalating avalanche.

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