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my name is Anne Hazlett and I am serving
as Assistant to the Secretary for Rural Development here at USDA. It’s truly an
honor to join you today and to moderate the discussion on an issue that I
believe is critical to the future of rural America. The opioid epidemic and
the destruction that it is wrecking on communities across our country is a
daily occurrence in the headlines and if you are like me and many others I think
it’s so easy to grow numb to the depths of its darkness and the reality of the
tremendous stress that it is placing on many of the small towns that each of us
have in this room have committed our lives to working on behalf of however is
rural advocates I believe that it is imperative for each and every one of us
to be engaged as rural leaders it is important to understand the nature of
this issue the impact that it is having on small towns across our country from
Michigan to Montana and the role that we can play as leaders in the solution at
that grassroots community level my roots in this issue really stem back to 2015
I’m from Indiana and my home state made national headlines when a small town in
the southern part of our of our state rural town called Austin experienced an
outbreak of HIV that stemmed from intravenous drug use
since that time I’ve had the opportunity to learn much more about this topic
working both on Capitol Hill as well as in volunteer ministry work primarily in
West Virginia and today I feel extraordinary blessed to serve in the
role that I do at the Department of Agriculture because I believe we are at
a time where the need for leadership on this issue in rural communities is
greater than perhaps it’s ever been I don’t know where you find yourself today
you might be generally aware of this issue as a topic in the news but not
much more than that or perhaps you are from a community or region of our
country where we can no longer pretend that all of rural America is Friday
Night Lights and your town has had to face this issue head-on so wherever on
that spectrum you may be today I am confident that you will take away
great wisdom great courage and great encouragement inspiration from our panel
so this afternoon I want to begin our time with a short video that I believe
is a brilliant capture of the gravity of this challenge and a call to action to
each of us in our own spheres of influence [music] so when we see the faces in the story or
in this video we really see Story upon story it is no overstatement to say that
the United States is experiencing an epidemic of drug overdose deaths as
you’ll see on this graph although the graph is reflecting 2015 in
2016 you can see the trajectory of the line nearly 64,000 Americans died from a
drug overdose and that is more than the number of people whose lives were lost
either in car accidents or gun-related homicides that’s roughly a hundred and
seventy four people a day and an overwhelming majority of these deaths
involved in opioid opioids are a class of drugs that act on the nervous system
to relieve pain they include illegal drugs such as heroin but one of the
greatest challenges we have is they are also including legal prescription pain
relievers opioid pain medications are generally safe when taken for a short
period of time and prescribed by a doctor but because they produce often
produced for a euphoria in addition to pain relief they can be misused and in
turn many users may then turn to street drugs when they are no longer able to
obtain these substances through a prescription because the pathway into
this addiction is generally through the use of a legal product the opioid
epidemic has touched a wide swath of people young and old rich and poor rural
and urban however the impact of this issue on rural America has been
particularly significant according to the CDC in 2016 on the top five states
with the highest rates of death due to drug overdose were all rural or and had
significant rural community portal New Hampshire Pennsylvania and Kentucky and
in addition last fall the CDC announced that the rates of drug overdose deaths
had risen in rural areas to surpass the rates in urban areas assisting
communities and building an effective response to this issue at that local
level is a priority for the Department of Agriculture and it
USDA we are focused on supporting rural leaders with program investments in
prevention treatment and recovery strategic partnerships and best
practices implementation we believe that this is more than a health issue it is
an issue of rural prosperity today we are announcing the launch of a new
opioids webpage which will serve as a landing landing place to connect rural
communities with resources to really help them tailor what they need for an
effective local response but as we lift up those resources we are most fortunate
today to be joined by a panel who I think can can paint a complete picture
for this issue on the ground the dimensions the impact on rural America
and best practices in action for health if we’re building healthy and prosperous
places I’m gonna introduce the panel they will present and then we will take
questions at the end I’m gonna start with Mace Thornton and Andrew Jerome; Mace is the executive director of communications at the American Farm
Bureau Federation he’s a Kansas native and was born and raised on a small hog
farm Andrew is the communications director for the National Farmers Union
also grew up on a family farm in Missouri and worked in the US Senate
last year these two leading farm organizations teamed up together to work
on the opioid issue in a project called farm town strong today Mace and Andrew
are going to give us an overview of the toll of this crisis that it is taking on
American agriculture and rural communities next we’ll hear from Dan
Krause dan is the general manager of Midwest poultry services an egg
processing company based in Mentone Indiana Midwest poultry services employs
nearly 600 people in the Midwest and produces over nine million eggs each day
dan first took an interest in this issue when his family’s company lost an
employee due to a drug overdose and today will give us a perspective on the
this issue through the lens of workplace productivity next following Dan we will
hear from Jessica Nichol jessica serves as the CEO of addiction policy forum
based here in DC they produced the video that we began with this afternoon
jessica has been working in the field to prevention
treatment for over 25 years after she was personally impacted by addiction in
her own family she is a tireless advocate for building a comprehensive
solution to the challenge of substance use disorder through policy development
best practice identification and implementation and legislation and last
but certainly not least we will hear from Nancy Hale
Nancy serves as the president and CEO of operation unite this is an organization
in Kentucky unite stands for unlawful narcotics investigation treatment and
education I had an opportunity to meet Nancy several weeks ago and there she
handed me a wristband that reads life counts and I believe that Nancy lives
this motto out each day as she works with passion to end the scourge of
addiction in her home state and with that I’ll turn it over to Andrew and
mace

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