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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Anne Hazlett and Kirk Pearson: Defeating the drug crisis in rural America: Building healthy communities in Washington

kirk pearson

From Washington to Maine, our country is in the midst of a drug crisis. In 2017, more than 70,000 Americans, or nearly 200 people each day, died as the result of a drug overdose. This crisis of addiction knows no geographic, cultural, or economic boundaries and has impacted small towns, tribal communities and suburban neighborhoods alike.

To help local leaders build a bright and healthy future, the Trump administration has deployed an all-hands-on-deck approach to make critical resources available to rural communities. Under the leadership of Director Jim Carroll, the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) is bringing together different federal departments and agencies to help rural leaders build local responses to address the addiction crisis in small towns.

For example, through its Community Facilities Program, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has partnered with Summit Pacific Medical Center to build a wellness center that is providing primary care services, medically-assisted treatment for opioid addiction and critical health-improvement activities such as nutrition counseling, exercise facilities and community education.

Beyond USDA, the Department of Health and Human Services is supporting the creation of a local opioid consortium that will ensure effective deployment of future resources across the state. And, finally, through its High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, ONDCP is leveraging the impact of these investments by infusing additional resources for law enforcement and prevention into the Pacific Northwest region. With these action-based partnerships, rural leaders are creating a grassroots model that can be replicated.

Working with Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Congressman Dan Newhouse, and local leaders, the Trump administration is stepping up to address the significant needs of rural communities in Eastern Washington. Access to treatment services, broadband connectivity to enable telemedicine and transportation resources are critical challenges in this crisis that we are meeting head on.

USDA Rural Development has helped launch a new coalition of rural advocates dedicated to stopping the scourge of drug addiction throughout the Pacific Northwest. Calling themselves the Rural Action Plan Tackling Opioid Recovery or “RAPTOR” group, these leaders on the frontlines are working hand-in-hand to find solutions to this crisis. These include a range of efforts, from workforce development to recovery housing, and school-based services like one Washington State University program under the leadership of Professor John Roll that focuses on rural mental health and substance abuse treatment.

We saw another great example of progress in March when nearly 400 participants attended the North Central Washington Opioid Response Conference: Pathways to Prevention, at 10 different sites across Eastern Washington to talk about the opioid crisis and learn about all the resources that are available.

The addiction crisis plaguing our country is more complex and demanding than ever before. We cannot do things the same way that we have in the past. As this crisis continues to strike small towns and rural places in Eastern Washington, we are committed to continuing our strong partnership with local leaders to meet the needs of rural America in this fight. As long as we work together, there is hope that we can save lives and make our communities places of hope and opportunity for the next generation.

By: Anne Hazlett, Senior Adviser for Rural Affairs, White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, and Kirk Pearson, Washington State Director for USDA Rural Development.

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