Monday, June 13, 2016

Rural Alabama coal county struggles with opioid addicition, especially among poor white women

In Alabama, where doctors prescribe more opioid painkillers than in any other state, rural areas like coal-dependent Walker County (Wikipedia map) have a soaring drug-addiction problem, especially among poor white women, Anne Hull reports for The Washington Post:"The death rate for women 35 to 44 years old has increased by 170 percent since 1999." Those statistics are common across the rural U.S., where the death rate among white, lesser-educated rural women has risen more sharply than in any other demographic.

"Everyone in this white, rural county of 67,000 has a theory about what happened here," Hull writes. "It was the global economy that took away the coal-mining jobs. It was Purdue Pharma marketing OxyContin as a less-addictive painkiller. It was greedy doctors who needed to pay for their beach condos in Gulf Shores. It was the druggies and scammers abusing the system. It was God being taken out of the schools. It was the government allowing Medicaid patients to get $800 worth of painkillers for a $6 co-pay. It was too few jobs and too many with headsets."

"Two generations of prescription painkillers have changed the way people die here," Hull writes. "Even more, they have changed the way people live. Great-grandparents are now raising the children of addicted parents and grandparents. Four out of five arrests in the county are drug-related. Every week a local newspaper called Just Busted publishes the arrest photos, the exhausted faces on display in most mini-marts next to the $14.99 synthetic urine products guaranteed to fool drug screenings."

Headlines about drugs, pills and opioids are common in the local Daily Mountain Eagle. In December four people were arrested on felony drug charges for having Oxycodone pills. In November a local doctor plead guilty to illegally distributing narcotic painkillers. In April a drug dealer and three others were arrested for having cocaine, heroine and methamphetamines.

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