KUNC - Rural areas and small cities across the country have seen an influx not only in the prevalence of prescription opioids, but illicit ones like heroin. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention opioids were involved in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015, four times the number of opioid-involved deaths than in 2000. A recent University of Michigan study found rates of babies born with opioid withdrawal symptoms rising much faster in rural areas than urban ones.
Many new heroin users find themselves using the drug after getting addicted to prescription drugs first. The CDC reports three out of four new heroin users report abusing prescription opioids prior to trying heroin. In the U.S., heroin-related deaths more than tripled between 2010 and 2015, with 12,989 heroin deaths in 2015. Opioids, both heroin and prescription drugs, killed more people in 2015 than any year on record.
As the epidemic becomes more deadly and reaches into more communities across the country, researchers are scrambling to both diagnose what causes some places and people to be more susceptible to opioid abuse, and to devise solutions. Jack Westfall, a family physician and researcher at the University of Colorado and with the High Plains Research Network, works with a network of rural clinics and hospitals in the state and says doctors on the plains are feeling frantic.
“The number one issue we’re facing is opioids,” Westfall says.