WASHINGTON, March 8, 2016 -Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke again about the ravages of opioid abuse this morning, telling the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists that a combination of poverty and isolation makes the problem especially difficult to address in rural communities.

“In far too few communities, particularly in rural areas, we simply do not have the services,” Vilsack said in a speech to the group in Washington. “We don’t have mental health clinics, we don’t have behavioral health centers,” he said, adding that more than three quarters of all the shortages of these types of facilities are in rural areas.

“Eighty-five percent of the persistently poor counties are not urban, they’re not inner city – they’re rural,” Vilsack said. In addition, rural Americans commit suicide at a rate twice that of their urban counterparts.

The former two-term governor of Iowa said the rural way of life – characterized by independence and isolation – can also help create addiction.

“When you finally have the courage to confront your demons, there’s no one there to help you,” he said.

In January, Vilsack was chosen by President Obama to lead an interagency effort to tackle heroin and opioid abuse. Prescriptions for painkillers have skyrocketed in recent years, and with it, heroin addiction, as prescription drug abusers turn to a cheaper substance for their high.

Vilsack said physicians need better training to determine when to prescribe pain-killers and other drugs. The Food and Drug Administration is working on guidelines for prescribing medication that it hopes to release this spring or summer.

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The administration is working with pharmaceutical companies to reformulate opioids so they don’t provide the euphoria that can get users addicted, and so the drugs cannot be crushed and then snorted.

On another subject, Vilsack said that USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy is currently developing nutrition guidelines for pregnant women and children up to 24 months of age.

He also said there will eventually be pressure to develop guidelines for people with different conditions or diseases, such as diabetes, because there is no “normal person.”




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