OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Data released last week by the CDC suggests America's drug epidemic is more deadly than ever.
Over 100,000 people died of drug overdoses in a 12 month period ending this past April — a new record high — jumping almost 29% from the previous year.
This isn’t a problem that’s central to big cities. Small towns are being hit just as hard.
“Isolation, I think the stigma, I think some of the other things like poverty and unemployment kind of issues all play a role in the increase in substance use disorders and difficulties associated with those substance use disorders in rural areas," said Dr. Kenneth Zoucha of the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC).
Zoucha said alcohol and methamphetamine are popular substances used in rural communities along with opioids — legally prescribed for pain but have a high risk for dependency with continuous use.
“There’s lots of issues surrounding pain in folks that live in rural areas...urban areas as well — don’t get me wrong — I think that pain is one of those things that we all struggle with and deal with. But just a higher instance of pain from overwork and overuse injuries,” said Zoucha.
"I think one of the biggest things when it comes to treatment is what types of treatments are available and of those types of treatments, what is going to best suit somebody?” said Patrick Habecker with the University of Nebraska Lincoln's Rural Drug Addiction Research Center.
Habecker says people in these areas face barriers when it comes to getting help, like lack of access to certain treatment options or issues with transportation.
“When you’re outside of Lincoln, Omaha, Grand Island even, to what extent is it easy to drive 10 miles, 20 miles, to have to spend an hour in a vehicle regularly to sort of get this treatment?” asked Habecker.
A map on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website shows just how sparse treatment centers are in smaller communities.
In Omaha, there are 119 facilities listed in a 100-mile radius compared to North Platte where there are only 12 in a 100-mile radius.
“When that moment arrives when someone is looking to reduce or change how they use a substance or completely remove it, you want as few barriers as possible there. You want to make that an easy transition where the services are available, easy to access and they're not going to face a whole bunch of stigma for walking in the door," said Habecker.
Additionally, the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services is working to prevent drug overdoses by increasing awareness and access to Naloxone, which helps reverse opioid overdoses. See more information here.