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Posted 12/22/2020

Understanding Addiction in Rural Oklahoma

Individuals who live in rural communities may have a higher risk for a number of diseases, including addiction. Common barriers such as a lack of primary care and specialty providers, affordability, health literacy and transportation from remote locations create challenges for our rural populations. In many cases, these individuals go without the care they need.

The National Center for Wellness & Recovery assists rural communities through advocacy, education and patient services in underserved areas of Oklahoma. “We’re leveraging the existing training and health care networks of OSU Medicine, OSU College of Osteopathic Medicine at Cherokee Nation and rural residency programs across the state,” explains Julie M. Croff, Ph.D., MPH, professor of rural health at OSU-CHS and executive director, population and clinical research at NCWR.

Rural providers have access to a network of training in specialties including mental health and substance use disorders. “This method of training and health care is dedicated to telemedicine approaches capable of delivering access to a multitude of specialty service lines,” said Croff. NCWR’s goal is to improve access to health services and bring care closer to home for many rural patients.

As with many diseases, substance use disorders are caused by a variety of factors. Research confirms that when individuals do not have essential living necessities, they are at a much greater risk for addictive behavior disorders.

Croff believes that when our environment nurtures development, has positive social interactions and relationships, opportunities to play, good nutrition and a safe work environment, we are far less likely to experience addiction of all forms. Croff has observed that when social and biological needs are met, individuals don’t search to fill those voids with substitutes such as drugs, alcohol, gambling, internet use or sex to cope with life.

NCWR population health initiatives throughout Oklahoma are targeting the unique and holistic needs of underserved populations such as veterans, rural communities and newborns exposed to drugs before birth. “Our team members bring a deep knowledge of the multiple avenues by which substance use disorders can occur,” said Croff. “They work together with community stakeholders to identify actionable items for their communities to protect those who may have more risks for substance use disorders and to identify treatment avenues for individuals who did not have access to our prevention efforts.”

The philosophy of OSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine is uniquely suited for the care of individuals with substance use disorders. “Our bodies cannot be examined independently from our circumstances, including our built and social environments,” said Croff. “The water we drink, the foods we eat, the air we breathe, and the relationships we have all act together on our bodies and change the risk/benefit ratio for health and disease.”

Deanne Vick | December 2020