Farmers harder hit by opioid crisis than rest of rural U.S.: survey

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The opioid crisis in the United States is impacting farm and ranch families more acutely than their rural neighbors, according to a survey published by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the National Farmers Union on Thursday.

About three-quarters of farmers and ranchers surveyed said a family member, someone they know or they themselves have taken an illegal opioid or are dealing with addiction.

That compares with 45 percent of the rural population as a whole, according to an online poll of 2,201 adults living in rural areas throughout the United States, conducted by Morning Consult on Oct 26-29.

The opioid crisis, driven by addiction to prescription painkillers and drugs like heroin and fentanyl, played a role in more than 33,000 deaths in 2015, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

U.S. President Donald Trump last month declared the crisis a public health emergency as estimates show the death toll rising.

“Opioids have been too easy to come by and too easy to become addicted to,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall, who called the results “heartbreaking.”

The group did not examine why the epidemic is disproportionately impacting its members, but government data show that, for farmers, rates of work-related injuries that may be treated with painkillers far outpace those in most other U.S. occupations.

Three in four farmers and ranchers said it would be easy for them or someone in their community to get a large amount of prescription opioids without a prescription, the poll found. Just 46 percent of rural adults as a whole said the same.

A third of those surveyed said it would be easy to access addiction treatment in their local community, while 38 percent said they felt treatment would be effective, affordable or covered by insurance.

Reporting by Karl Plume, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien