Is it possible? I think so

One in seven people fight addiction in their lifetime. That is 21 million Americans.

Many things aid the causes of addiction such as, genetics, age, prescription use, physical condition and lack of education. Then there are many environmental factors that increase the risk that someone will become addicted. Those include home life, family connections, community structure, and neighbor relationships.

I feel the Drug Use Disorder rural America is battling today was caused by changes communities underwent several decades ago. When was the last time you and your family gathered on a Sunday afternoon with your neighbor on their front porch?

The kids played in the yard and the adults visited about old times not thinking about the upcoming work week. No one looked at their phone or sent a text.

There is another thing that was at play during these times and that was a strong connection with family and friends.

I like to think of these relationships as having mentors. This created an accountability with peers and learning how to interact and hone social skills were gained by all ages alike. Texting what I am doing does not replace doing it with friends and family. Although it might be a form of communication texting can’t replace a true relationship.

Why do I believe these are underlying factors to the increase in drug abuse? The odds of increased abuse are directly related to such things as divorce, isolation and lack of connections, good feelings about self-worth, quality jobs and local living conditions.

Many counties in Indiana, 62 of them to be exact, populations have been on the decline and the projections for the same continue into 2050. These factors and more are found in increasing numbers where drug abuse is high.

Where do we go from here and how do we change the trajectory? First and foremost, we need a better educated workforce. A high school diploma is a wonderful thing, but it will no longer get you the kind of living wage it once would. You can nearly double your lifetime earnings with a certificate, credential or associate degree. Next, I believe jobs need to be spread all over the state and not located in the urban areas for the most part.

Internet access and affordable housing should be a top priority for rural Indiana. Along with health care that is not an hour plus away from home. Communities that have a sense of community are also very important. Being connected to a larger cause other than one’s self.

Will these things alone turn the tide on substance abuse?

No, but they will be a necessary ingredient in the war. The state and federal governments are working diligently on ways to help with detoxification and recovery. They also are picking up the pace on awareness and prevention. But without a wholistic approach, admitting there is a problem, changing all these things that contribute and most importantly working together leveraging all our assets we will have a much longer way to go.

USDA Rural Development is trying to do our part and has many programs that can help, but we can not do it alone. Is it possible to win the war?

I think so, but it will take all working in partnership. Come over some afternoon and we will sit on the front porch and figure this out together.

Michael Dora is USDA Rural Development Indiana state director