Heartache, Hope and Pain: Rural Communities, Older People and the Opioid Epidemic

Publication date: 
August, 2017
Grantmakers in Aging

Heartache, Hope and Pain: Rural Communities, Older People and the Opioid Epidemic

The opioid crisis is the story of many types of pain. It’s about how well-meaning efforts to kill pain began to kill people instead. How chronic pain can hijack everyday life and medical care. How legal prescriptions can inadvertently lead patients to illegal street drugs. How individuals, families, even entire communities – particularly small and rural ones – can become collateral damage. Above all, how government, nonprofits, industry, and the medical profession must work together, considering the needs of many different kinds of people and tapping the ingenuity of experts and communities alike, to craft responsive solutions.

Opioids are the most frequently prescribed type of medication in the United States. They are painkillers that include codeine, morphine, OxyContin, Vicodin, Demerol, and methadone, as well as synthetic opioids like Fentanyl and Carfentanyl. Heroin, an illegal drug, is also an opioid.

Since the year 2000, an estimated 300,000 people have died of an opioid-related overdose. An estimated 2 million Americans have an opioid use disorder, and another 591,000 are addicted to heroin. (Opioid use has also become a powerful risk factor for heroin addiction.) 

This document contains two major sections. The first, Places, People and Systems: Understanding the Problem, looks at the crisis arising from opioids in rural communities and, in particular, the damage it is causing in the lives of many older people. The second section, Governments, Communities, and Funders Respond, turns toward solutions, looking at a wide range of hopeful responses that governments, communities, and funders are already starting to put into place, and which cry out for scale and support.

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