USDA's Rural Development Lead Anne Hazlett Opens Opioid Crisis Dialogue with Oklahoma LeadersWed, 06 Jun 2018 12:47:33 CDT
The misuse of opioids has reached critical levels in recent years and Oklahoma’s rural communities are feeling the impact of this nationwide crisis. According to an advisory from the US Department of Agriculture, there were 444 opioid-related deaths in Oklahoma in 2016. Prescription drug overdoses kill more Oklahomans than motor vehicle crashes, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. As this crisis rises to a boiling point in the state, its impact is beginning to affect the available workforce, thereby weighing on economic conditions in rural Oklahoma.
In an effort to bring light to this intensifying situation and open a dialogue among community leaders, the USDA, Wednesday, hosted the Oklahoma Opioid Roundtable in El Reno, Okla. at the Canadian Valley Career Tech Center. USDA Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development Anne Hazlett appeared to hear the concerns of local leaders and discuss possible solutions to this issue, offering USDA’s partnership and resources to help combat this epidemic. Prior to the Roundtable’s commencement, Hazlett spoke with Radio Oklahoma Ag Network Associate Farm Director Carson Horn about this issue and others she is working on in her role within USDA’s Rural Development office. You can hear their complete conversation by clicking or tapping the LISTEN BAR below at the bottom of the page.
“No corner of the country has gone untouched by this issue, but we know that rural communities have been particularly impacted,” Hazlett said. “So, today will be a learning opportunity for me to hear first-hand from people who are dealing with this challenge on the frontlines and then seeing how we can be a stronger partner with our resources, as well as some of the model practices we see working in other parts of the country that might be adopted here.”
Not only are Oklahoma’s rural communities heavily burdened with this issue, but so too are its tribal communities where the crisis has become significantly prevalent. Hazlett says in this case, it will be important to find ways of providing culturally and traditionally appropriate means of care and treatment that align with the unique needs of tribal nations.
“I always hate to focus on the numbers, because of course, every life matters. But, the numbers truly are staggering,” Hazlett said reporting that last year, 64,000 people gave their life to opioid abuse, or roughly 174 people each day. “When you step back and look at the numbers, it can be overwhelming - but importantly there are simple solutions that each of us can take up and move forward with.”
As the USDA and its partners continue to work on getting their arms wrapped around this problem to develop a strategic plan for reversing it - Hazlett says there are some initial program investment opportunities including a robust telemedicine program, which helps treat those without local access to treatment facilities; available grant funding for equipment and infrastructure upgrades; and programs that address some of the broader needs in fighting this crisis such as transitional housing and workforce development.
“A lot of this goes beyond USDA,” she said, “and it is important for us to be working very closely with some of our other partners both at the federal and state level to make sure that our resources align with their missions as well.”
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