The federal agency that oversees farming and other rural issues has chosen Maine to host one of five USDA opioid roundtables being held across the country in rural areas.
Anne Hazlett is the Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development in Washington D.C. She said the state’s high rate of opioid deaths is the primary reason it was chosen. In 2017 Maine saw 418 drug deaths, with a significant number of them attributed to opioid overdoses, and 247 linked to the powerful drug fentanyl.
Hazlett said while no one step will fix the problem of opioid abuse in rural areas like Maine, the roundtables are meant to be a sharing platform both for what has and has not worked.
"We need that information to best inform the resources that we are assembling and that's the manner in which we're approaching this – certainly in the manner of action – but we need information to inform that action, whether it's a community tool kit or initiatives within our own existing programs," said Hazlett.
“With those successes, then, can we take best practices and have some type of a community tool kit that will be effective for different communities to tap as a resource?” asked Hazlett.
Hazelett says the problem won't be felled by a silver bullet, but something more like "silver buckshot" with many different efforts. She also said lawmakers have an opportunity to help address some of the barriers to treatment for rural places in the upcoming Farm Bill. For example, she said expanding and improving broadband, so that rural areas have better access to mental health and counseling services via telemedicine.
Other roundtable sites chosen include Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Utah, and Oklahoma. Maine's roundtable is set for July.