Which problem came first, economic depression or substance abuse? Does anyone even know the answer to that question? As the economy has suffered over the long term since the Economic Malaise of the early 1980s, has substance abuse become more of a problem? Recent reports say that "there is a growing concern that substance abuse is eroding the economic and social fabric of the Appalachian Region," according to the Appalachian Regional Commission's (ARC) Online Research Center.
At the heart of the matter are the abuses of OxyContin in Central Appalachia, more alcohol and drug use among youth in rural areas and limited access to substance abuse treatment programs. Kentucky is a severely depressed state. According to the Kentucky Division of Substance Abuse (June 2002), "Appalachian Kentucky is experiencing drug-related deaths at about four times the rate of the rest of the state." In Ohio, the abuse problem is growing, but also, there is the problem of limited substance abuse treatment.
Some of the limitations may be related to stigma. People are afraid they will be ridiculed for seeking treatment for mental health or substance abuse issues. It's reported that there aren't enough mental health professionals to go around. And there may not be enough local support for such agencies, forcing those who seek help to go outside their communities.
ARC reports "a greater proportion of people in Appalachia abuse prescription drugs and report mental health problems than in the nation as a wholeIn the poorer counties in the region, reports of drug abuse and general mental health problems are significantly higher than in the rest of Appalachia."
The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago reports that "poverty, depression, mental illness and drug and alcohol abuse reinforce each other, especially in the coal mining regions of central Appalachia."
The prescription drug abuse is interfering with the region's ability to improve the economy there. And as the economy worsens, drug abuse and mental illness become more common among the youth. The senior population is affected, as well, with senior citizens being arrested and spending time in jail for selling their prescription drugs to make their ends meet.
Appalachia is comprised of 410 counties including all of West Virginia and parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia. Substance abuse is bad for economic growth and social development. In fact, OxyContin is now regarded as "the street drug of choice in Appalachia."
Typically Appalachians live in significantly high poverty, in substandard housing, in an area with high unemployment. The people are socially isolated, are subject to discriminatory attitudes about their culture and lack health care coverage.
Knowing these facts about substance abuse and it's effects in Kentucky should serve as an advisory to other Appalachian communities that are seeing a rise in substance abuse. Substance abuse isn't the problem of just the person who has it. It's a family issue. It's a community problem that affects everyone and needs everyone to contribute to correcting it.
Family Recovery Center promotes the well-being of individuals, families and communities with substance abuse and mental health education, prevention and treatment programs. For assistance or more information about this topic, contact us at 964 N. Market St., Lisbon; phone, 330-424-1468; or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.