Farming and ranching are businesses that often involve the entire family.
So when the farm or ranch operation faces challenges such as poor growing and harvesting conditions, low commodity prices, trade wars, a shortage of livestock feed for winter or injuries, the stress affects everyone in the family. These stressors are risk factors for prescription opioid misuse.
North Dakota State University (NDSU) Extension has partnered with South Dakota State University Extension to provide services that prevent opioid misuse in rural communities, particularly in the farming/ranching industry, across the two states through a program called Strengthening the Heartland (STH). They received a $563,825 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and a $319,926 Rural Health and Safety Education (RHSE) grant two years ago to carry out that work.
“With opioid misuse a rising problem in North Dakota, this grant allows us to provide the resources and tools to individuals in rural communities who may not have access to health care and resources,” says Meagan Scott Hoffman, a 4-H youth development specialist in NDSU Extension’s Center for 4-H Youth Development and one of the STH project’s leaders.
“Overall, we are striving to empower and equip the citizens of North Dakota with the tools needed to address opioid misuse,” she adds. “It is our team’s hope that we can work together to promote rural prosperity and rural wellness across the Dakotas.”
Research shows that in North Dakota, 65.9 percent of those who abuse prescription opioids obtained them from family or friends. In the U.S., drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental deaths, and opioids are the most common drug used.
One concern when addressing substance misuse is access to mental health care. Rural areas routinely experience inadequate access to services. In more than 90 percent of counties in North and South Dakota, the number of mental health-care providers is not adequate based on need.
STH offers resources such as printed material, a website, webinars and two programs. One program is for adults and the other is for youth. The Opioid Public Health Crisis program is for adults. This one-hour presentation addresses opioid misuse, risk factors and suggested prevention methods. The program is ideal for parents, employees, employers, teachers and services providers.
The program for youth is This is (Not) About Drugs. This one-hour, media-based presentation is targeted toward youth in grades six to 12. The program helps raise awareness of the risks of misusing prescription opioids and encourages youth to seek alternatives to substances when dealing with stress. The presentation is great for schools, clubs, youth groups, youth conferences or after-school programs.
Individuals including school counselors, counseling and university professionals, college students and others who have interest in or connection to the issue are trained to present these programs.
The universities’ efforts already are making an impact. In two years, the This is (Not) About Drugs program reached 2,086 youth in 30 schools across North Dakota. The 1,424 North Dakota youth who completed a survey assessing their knowledge before and after participating in the program reported a 15.2 percent increase in their knowledge of prescription opioid misuse after participating.
“The change in knowledge is notable, given the brief one-hour nature of the presentation,” Hoffman says.
The Opioid Public Health Crisis program has reached 287 adults in seven locations across North Dakota: Williston, Minot, St. John, Devils Lake, Bismarck, Fargo and Lisbon.
Lupita Espana, the school counselor for Ray (ND) Public Schools, was impressed with the youth program.
“Last year, our students in grades seven to 12 participated in the This is (Not) About Drugs opioid misuse prevention programming,” she says. “The presenter went to each grade to present at their level and the students were able to ask questions and interact with the presenter.
“I really enjoyed this particular presentation because it was not like others where the message to students is to stay away from drugs; rather, it took a more informative approach: What are drugs, the types of drugs people use and why people use drugs,” Espana adds. “The students didn’t feel like they were told not to do drugs; rather, they were given the information to make that decision.
“It was interesting to see with the older students that they didn’t really know much about some of the drugs and the potency,” she notes. “Overall, it was a great presentation.”
The program also was an eye-opener for Mandan High School students.
“The majority of students were very surprised at the numbers of addicted in North Dakota, that opioids are the same as heroin and that it is just not homeless or destitute people; it is people in local jobs/careers at many different levels in society, such as CEOs, professionals, etc.,” says Constance Keller, health sciences instructor at Mandan High.
NDSU and SDSU Extension recently were awarded a $1,081,644 SAMHSA grant and a $392,171 RHSE grant to continue their work on opioid misuse prevention for another two years.
The goals for the continued program are to: Increase access to research-based educational tools related to opioid/stimulant misuse for Extension professionals and health-care providers in rural North and South Dakota communities; and to increase knowledge and empathy related to opioid/stimulant misuse among members of rural communities in the two states. — NDSU Extension