Solutions for the rural opioid epidemic

Despite the focus on the opioid crisis in the news and among public health advocates, deaths from opioids continue to increase in the U.S. Every day, 91 Americans die from an opioid overdose.[1] While the rate of illicit drug use is similar in rural and urban areas, the drug overdose death rate in rural areas has surpassed that in urban areas.[2]

Primary care providers in rural areas are on the front lines of the opioid crisis but often lack the resources to recognize and treat patients with opioid use disorders.[3] Specialty drug treatment programs and recovery supports for people with opioid use disorder are less readily available in rural areas. Westat is helping to give providers the knowledge and tools to help people recover from opioid addiction.

More than 12.5 million Americans abused prescription opioids in 2015.

We are working with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s (AHRQ’s) Academy for Integrating Behavioral Health and Primary Care. We reviewed the research and prepared a guide on Implementing Medication-Assisted Treatment for Opioid Use Disorder in Rural Primary Care.

The report examines factors that may limit access to medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for opioid use disorder in rural primary care settings and identifies strategies to address them. It features 3 innovative models of care well suited to rural settings. It includes links to and descriptions of nearly 250 tools and resources to support addressing the opioid epidemic.

On a local level, we support AHRQ grantees in 5 states (Colorado, North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania) who are making MAT for opioid use disorder more available in rural settings. We

  • Connect them with national experts and provide emerging news and findings
  • Support collaboration among the grantees through periodic meetings and an online discussion forum
  • Identify lessons learned to share among the grantees and with the broader national community

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[1] https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

[2] https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2017/p1019-rural-overdose-deaths.html

[3] https://integrationacademy.ahrq.gov/about/opioids-substance-use/primary-care-medication-assisted-treatment-grantees

Westat is drawing on our expertise in addictions research and communications to support the work of states and communities in responding to the opioid epidemic.

- Garrett Moran, PhD, Westat Vice President and Associate Director

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