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Farm Town Strong addresses rural opioid epidemic

Kaitlyn Riley

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Two of the nation’s largest farming organizations came together to stop the stigma surrounding opioid abuse.

The American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union established an initiative called Farm Town Strong to draw attention to the epidemic in farm country.

“It’s no secret that the opioid crisis is been just dreadful for rural America,” Will Rodger, director of policy communications with American Farm Bureau said. “If you look at our poll numbers, it shows that most farmers and most farm workers know someone who has personally been affected by opioids.”

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation and National Farmers Union, 74 percent of farmers and farm workers said they have been directly impacted. Only one in three rural adults said it would be easy to access addiction treatment, yet three in four farmers said it is easy to access large amounts of opioids without a prescription.

Rodger said while government agencies can funnel money and professionals to try to wash out the issue, most fighting addiction benefit best from family members and friends who recognize a problem and can help find treatment options.

Farm Town Strong is designed to help rural communities find resources for treatment, prevention, or drug disposal.

“It is our way of trying to get people sensitized and to remove the stigma of addiction from opioids,” Rodger said.

Often thought of as an urban issue, in many areas, addiction rates can be higher in countryside communities.

“We have people who have pain problems,” Rodger said. “Anecdotally, we think a lot of it has to do with the high rate of injury on farms. People who are addicted have a physical problem, but that physical problem typically leads them to a place where it’s very difficult to function just day-to-day, and they need a lot of help. It may get to the point that they can’t afford actual prescription opioids, and they’ll start turning to heroin.”

Changes in behavior that may be signs of drug addiction include becoming withdrawn, losing interest, or acting secretive. Money may start to disappear.

“I think it’s just a matter of people talking about the things that were almost impossible to talk about,” Rodger said. “I think almost all of us know someone who’s been addicted to alcohol. Opioids are very much the same sort of situation. People stumble into it. It’s not that they sit around and decide they do not care about life.”

Several state Farm Bureau chapters have joined the Farm Town Strong initiative. Rodger the best way for people to help the cause is to volunteer time.

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in both radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.

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