Travelling for Opioid Addiction Treatment Opens Up Options for Rural Addicts

Every Friday afternoon, they come. Some are local residents, others come by car from Kentucky, others take the bus from West Virginia. “Carrying bags and coffee cans filled with dirty needles,” IV opioid users make their way to the makeshift clinic in Portsmouth, Ohio to trade their used wares in for new, clean needles. While making their trades, city health workers encourage them to get tested for HIV and hepatitis C. They encourage them to take care of themselves. They encourage them to get treatment. But in Portsmouth, Ohio, as in many of the rural communities scattered across America, addiction treatment options are few and far between. “We have hundreds and hundreds of injection-drug users,” says Lisa Roberts, a nurse at the clinic. “It’s like a plague on the heartland. And rural areas are not prepared to handle that.”

Geography Matters

For decades, drug addiction was associated with urbanism as cities became mythologized as centers of iniquity, sin, and indulgence. In reality, drug addiction has seeped into all communities, large and small, infiltrating every corner of America. The exact shape and nature of addiction, however, is informed by location-specific risk factors that make the experiences of rural addicts qualitatively different than those in urban areas. In recent years, we have witnessed an explosion of rural opioid addiction driven largely by geographical circumstances; in rural Pennsylvania alone, hospitalizations for opioid overdoses jumped by 315% since 2000 and “death rates from overdoses in rural areas now outpace the rate in large metropolitan areas.”

As Alex Zielinski writes, this disturbing trend is driven by the unique circumstances of people living in rural locations:

Rural populations are usually older, and older populations are more susceptible to chronic pain treated by opioid-based pain medication — a common introduction to the slippery slope of opioid abuse. And in these rural areas, where existing jobs are often more physically demanding, work injuries are common. Instead of risking job loss, injured employees often rely on these pain medications to numb the problem.

Once opioid addiction takes hold, there is another, even more troubling reason it so often flourishes in rural communities: lack of access to addiction treatment services. “Access is the biggest problem for rural communities. It’s what keeps them stuck in the cycle of abuse,” says Laura Jones, who works for West Virginia’s first needle exchange program. During her time at the exchange, she has witnessed entire families come to trade in their needles after driving hours from their small rural towns, desperate for help. And she knows there are countless others out there who can’t access either help or clean needles at all. “We have not even scratched the surface of reaching those people – we just don’t have the means.”

Hope is Just a Phone Call Away


The Distance to Recovery

Zielinski says that “the sheer distance from addiction treatment is the main reason that rural areas see so much long-term drug abuse,” and research shows that those who try to seek help from their doctors are often turned away and denied access to critical relapse prevention drugs. “There’s a severe lack of medication assisted treatment in this community,” says Dr. Lisa Miller, a family physician in Norway, Maine. “We have no methadone clinics nearby. We have two Suboxone providers, I think, within 30 minutes but they’re filled to the brim. They’re not taking new patients and it’s just a real struggle for people to get in for any medication assisted treatment.”

Michelle Roberts, an opioid addict who lives in a small village of 800 people, says that even when she was referred to a Suboxone provider 30 minutes out of town, she had no way to get there. “I didn’t have the money, the gas, anything like that to get there.” Meanwhile, even those who can afford what few local treatment program are available are often unable to access them, as such facilities may be booked solid for months in advance. Without access to buprenorphine, methadone or Suboxone, comprehensive mental health services, and widely available peer support groups, recovering from opioid addiction is nearly impossible.

But effective addiction treatment isn’t the only thing that’s lacking; for many, rural communities offer little impetus to try treatment in the first place, creating a vast psychological distance between addicts and recovery. With few healthcare workers available to offer guidance and no thriving recovery community to give you hope, it can be difficult to see a way out of addiction. “It’s kind of like when you’re drowning and you don’t think anything can save you,” says Brock Slabach, vice president of the National Rural Health Association. “It’s hard to know that you can be helped, it’s an all-consuming process. Someone has to reach out their hand and guide you in the right direction.”

Opioid Addiction Treatment at Alta Mira

The choice to seek addiction treatment is one of the most courageous and significant decisions you will ever make and, ideally, that decision should be made based on which treatment program will best serve your needs. If you are struggling with opioid addiction and don’t have access to local treatment resources or want higher quality care than local treatment facilities can provide, it could be time to start looking further afield.

At Alta Mira, we welcome clients from all over the world who are seeking to break free from drug addiction. Our internationally renowned program offers personalized, comprehensive opioid addiction treatment that draws from a full array of relapse prevention medications, medically supervised detox services, evidence-based clinical and holistic therapies, and 12-step wisdom to create truly transformative treatment experiences. Within our warm, welcoming recovery community, you will have access to the tools and support you need to heal from opioid addiction and find relief from emotional and behavioral distress with the guidance of some of the most well-respected addiction medicine experts in the field.

To enhance the experiences of our long-distance clients, we offer a range of services that take your unique needs into account. Our family therapy sessions, for example, may be conducted via phone or Skype to allow your loved ones to participate in your recovery process, fortifying both your relationships and your sobriety. We have also built relationships with addiction treatment services across the country to help us conduct comprehensive aftercare planning, ensuring that you are able to return to your home environment with all the supports you need to maintain your commitment to recovery. If you do not feel that your home environment is a suitable place to return, we can connect you with a trusted network of sober living environments and any other resources you may need to maintain your sobriety and continue the vital work of healing. With a thoughtfully implemented recovery strategy and support of compassionate clinicians and peers, you can find relief from suffering and establish the inner tranquility you need to flourish.

Alta Mira offers comprehensive treatment for people struggling with opioid addiction as well as all other forms of substance use disorders, including co-occurring mental health disorders and process addictions. Contact us for more information about our renowned programs and how we can help you or your loved one start the journey toward recovery.