Factors that Contribute to Substance Use Disorder in Rural Communities
Multiple factors contribute to the high burden of substance misuse and substance use disorder (SUD)
in rural communities, including:
High rates of poverty and unemployment – According to the USDA
Economic Research Service, the overall rate of poverty is significantly higher in rural areas
compared to urban areas, and employment and educational attainment rates are lower than in urban areas.
Poverty and unemployment have shown to be associated
with drug use. Research by the University of New Hampshire documented that people are selling illegal
substances to pay bills and other expenses.
Increased availability of prescription opioids – Research indicates that states
with large rural populations also have some of the highest
rates of opioid
prescription. Prescription opioids have historically been prescribed to maintain productivity
in heavy labor industries like mining.
Barriers to treatment – Rural communities have fewer treatment
facilities, mental health providers, and detoxification services. People who live in rural
communities may experience longer travel distances to available facilities. These barriers prevent
individuals from accessing treatment for SUDs. In addition, negative attitudes about SUDs, including the
belief that SUDs are a moral failing, may prevent individuals from seeking needed treatment, even when it is
available. This is particularly a problem in small rural communities with few mental health and/or
healthcare providers where there is less privacy for those seeking treatment for SUDs.
Resources to Learn More
An Analysis of Mental Health and Substance Use Disparities and Access to Treatment Services in the
Analyzes disparities in mental health status, the prevalence of substance use disorders (SUDs), and
accessibility of treatment services in the Appalachian region. Includes quantitative data and case
studies in the analysis.
Author(s): Zhang, Z., Infante, A., Meit, M., et al.
Organization(s): NORC at the University of Chicago, East Tennessee State University, Appalachian
Use Disorder: Challenges and Opportunities in Rural Communities
Describes the disproportionate impact of the opioid crisis on rural areas. Discusses issues related
to rural treatment capacity and offers potential solutions to address the rural treatment gap.
Organization(s): Pew Charitable Trusts
Rural Communities in Crisis: Strategies to Address the Opioid Crisis
Discusses factors contributing to the opioid epidemic in rural areas and suggests policy strategies
to help rural communities address the opioid crisis.
Organization(s): National Rural Health Association