CNCounty News

Rural development expert takes aim at rural drug addiction

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Anne Hazlett, formerly assistant to the secretary for Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has pivoted to address a specific ill plaguing rural counties, serving now as the senior adviser at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).

She’s leading the agency’s multi-faceted approach toward illicit drugs — addiction prevention, supply disruption and proliferation of treatment efforts.

“We focus on prevention by educating our youth about the dangers of illicit substances, but it’s much more than just talking to kids,” she said Sunday at a meeting of NACo’s Rural Action Caucus at NACo’s Legislative Conference.         

“Much of our focus has been on looking at prescribing practices at the local level, ensuring that doctors are well educated about the dangers of over prescribing,” she said, “or [the danger of] combining opioids with other substances.”

The ONDCP is also trying to disrupt the international drug supply, particularly via “dark web” online sales, she said.

”Most of the drugs that are killing Americans are coming from outside our borders,” she said. “We are working with international partners to cut off production and the supply chain so these substances don’t get to our country in the first place.”

She also said her office is targeting shipments of drugs ferried through the U.S. Postal Service.

"We’re strengthening our infrastructure to detect these products as they travel through the mail,” she said.

While those measures will help slow the rate of new drug addiction cases, hundreds of thousands of Americans in rural counties are struggling with existing addictions, and there aren’t enough options for them, she said.

“We believe that someone who needs help should be able to get it when they ask for it,” she said. “Not just the help that they need to get well through treatment, but the recovery services that are then needed to go on to live that healthy and productive life.”

Hazlett is hoping to not only find ways to increase the number of healthcare providers available in rural areas, but also increase employment opportunities for people in recovery.

“We could start this all off better by training healthcare providers to screen for this issue more effectively and connect people with services,” she said.

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