USDA rolls out drug and opioid overdose tool for rural communities

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MINIDOKA, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) - The U.S. Department of Agriculture partnered with the Office of National Drug Control Policy to put out a new tool to help rural communities combat drug and opioid miuse and overdose.

An interactive map was created to look at data for drug overdoses or opioid overdoses in a four-year time frame. The numbers given are per 100,000 people.

According to the map of Magic Valley and Wood River Valley counties, Minidoka County had the most deaths from drug overdoses from 2012 to 2016.

Minidoka County had 22.8 overdoses per 100,000 people from ages 15 to 64 in 2012 to 2016. Twin Falls landed second with 18.8. Jerome County followed with 15.8 people. Blaine County had 14.4 and Cassia had less than 13 people.

The places of data the website accessed were from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

When Allopathic Physician Jeff Swenson, with Minidoka Memorial Hospital, saw the results, he told KMVT he was surprised. He said he doesn't see many overdoses.

"I probably have one every three or four months of drug overdose. I can tell you in the summer, we seem to see a little bit more of that," he said, adding that he saw three fentanyl overdoses.

The rise of drug misuse and overdoses is not just a local issue it's nationwide, he said.

"Whether you’re dealing with alcohol or narcotics or illegal substances such as methamphetamine's. As far as meth, we see more cases," he said. "Not necessarily overdose, but I can say I worked the emergency room the past week, I’ve seen four cases where they tested positive for meth. It is here. Drug use is here and it’s pretty prevalent."

Swenson said the tool will be helpful in identifying numbers, but there's still an issue of why there is so much drug use.

"We have to look at why are we doing this. Why is our society doing this?" he continued. "I can think of a 22-year-old who overdosed on fentanyl and would’ve died if there wasn’t a bystander that saved his life. I asked him at the end, 'Why are you doing this?' and he said 'It lets me get away.'"

However, Swenson said it's not just the younger generation using drugs and misusing opioids.

"I've seen 72 year olds overdose before. I've seen 78 year olds on methamphetamine," he told KMVT.

He believes reducing the availability of prescription drugs can make a difference.

"They may have sent you home with three weeks worth of medication and now they’re saying seven days or we’ll send you home with 10 days," he said.

As a physician, he's grown more aware of the rising epidemic.

"One thing you need to understand, that narcotics are not necessarily an evil thing. They’re not a bad thing and they have their place. They definitely have their place in medicine," he said. "We will continue to use them. We just have to be very vigilant on how we use them."

Swenson said there should be closer monitoring when giving a patient medication.

"Primary care provider or a pain specialist or pain management or even the surgeon can follow up and say, 'We’ll see you in a week' or where your pain is. Certainly from an outpatient or an ER standpoint, we’re really trying to cut back on that," he said.

The USDA also put out a guide for rural communities to help address substance and opioid abuse.

The list gives resources on federal funding and partnership opportunities to combat this issue. To see the list, visit the USDA website

Swenson added that while the ratio is at 23 deaths per 100,000 people in Minidoka County, the actual number of deaths is about four people, as the population of the county is 20,000.

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