Substance abuse has ravaged rural Georgia.
While most people might think simply of the opioid epidemic as the greatest contributing factor for drug and alcohol addiction, there are actually numerous reasons why rural citizens need help. Most have to do with fulfilling basic needs.
Lack of Health Services
In August 2018, the AJC reported on the reality of health care outside Georgia’s metro areas. At the time of its article:
- Nine counties in the state didn’t have primary health care providers at all.
- Of the 159 counties, 64 didn’t have a pediatrician and 79 were without an OB/GYN.
- As of 2019, seven rural hospitals closed in the past nine years. Many others are on the brink of financial vulnerability and closure.
- Drug overdose and suicide rates rose 35 percent from 2012-2016. Ten rural counties had the highest numbers statewide.
- Almost one in five adults, or 1.4 million, “experience some form of mental illness in a given year.” Further, Mental Health America data indicates “the Peach State ranks among the worst for the number of mental health professionals—one for every 1,440 people.” Compare that rank to Massachusetts, which has “one provider for every 248 people.” Unmanaged mental health issues are often co-occurring disorders with substance abuse.
- Reports from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration outline “61 percent of Georgia’s adults with mental illnesses didn’t receive treatment from 2009-2013.”
- Approximately 13 percent of the state’s citizens are uninsured. In January 2019, the Georgia Budget for Policy Institute projected this percentage could rise “more than 25 percent by 2026” for rural residents.
- This County Health Rankings Roadmap allows you to review by county some of the primary reasons for compromised physical and mental health.
In its ongoing “Best States” rankings, U.S. News and World Report ranked Georgia 39th out of 50 states for the following health care rankings:
- Health care access (41st), which includes factors such as children and adults who forgo dental and medical care because of cost.
- Health care quality (37th), which follows contributing aspects like Medicare plan ratings, nursing home and hospital quality, and preventable hospital admissions.
- Public health (36th), which assesses numerous risk factors, including mental health, suicide, smoking, obesity, and mortality rates for infants and children.
To compare, California’s ratings—positioned in the top 10 at 7th—were 23, 10, and 1; Mississippi’s—ranked dead last at 50th—were 50, 50, and 48.
The Georgia Department of Community Health indicated there were 2.3 million residents in rural counties. Nearly 40 percent of people living on fixed or low incomes are uninsured, according to the Georgia Health News. While there are many state-based programs for medical assistance and resources—such as the GAMap2Care to find health care services and facilities—hundreds of thousands of people are simply without the means to travel far. Either they don’t have the money or a reliable method of transportation to maintain regular wellness.
Unemployment, Poverty, and Incarceration
Aspects of hopelessness and despair often accompany substance abuse problems. In rural Georgia, fewer people have high school diplomas or opportunities for sustainable employment. This means joblessness and poverty are more prevalent in these areas than urban communities. The Economic Research Service reports:
- Approximately 20 percent of the rural population hasn’t finished high school, compared to 12 percent elsewhere in the state.
- The average income for rural residents per capita is approximately $33,000—metro residents average $44,000.
- In 2017, data indicated rural Georgia’s unemployment rate averaged 5.2 percent, but some counties—such as Ben Hill, Burke, Chattahoochee, Clay, Twiggs, Webster, and Wheeler—spiked between 8–10 percent.
- The poverty rate is more than 20 percent in rural areas, and 13 percent in metro areas.
- AJC reported in December 2018 that Georgia’s metro economies were thriving with job growth, but “rural Georgia not keeping pace.” Of 159 counties, “92 still don’t have as many employed people as they did before the 2008 recession—and nearly all those counties are rural.”
The state also has a relatively high incarceration rate compared to its general population. According to Prison Policy.org, Georgia leads the U.S. in “correctional control” affecting just over 5,000 people per 100,000 of the total state population. Correctional control includes federal prisons, state prisons, local jails, youth confinement, Indian Country jails, involuntary commitment, parole, and probation. Georgia ranks 1st in probation, 4th in incarceration, and 1st in total correctional control.
The probationary period in Georgia is typically six years—much higher than other states. While this might seem a preferred action to jail or prison, it often has such substantial fee rates, according to the ACLU.
Anyone of any economic status can develop a drug or alcohol problem. Complications of addiction can’t be defined by certain myths and stigmas of the disease such as employment or incarceration. However, addiction science researchers list environmental influences such as these as primary contributing factors.
Drug Overdoses and Related Deaths
Various statistics report that in 2014, more than one-third of the Peach State’s 159 counties had higher drug overdose rates than the country’s average. The Substance Abuse Research Alliance (SARA), a program of the Georgia Prevention Project, indicates these are mostly rural counties with limited access to substance use disorder treatment and/or medication-assisted treatment.
The Georgia Department of Public Health reports that from 2010–2017, “The number of opioid-involved overdose deaths increased by 245 percent—from 426 to 1,043 deaths.” While metro areas experienced higher deaths overall, rural communities in Southeast, South Central, and North Georgia have larger numbers of opioid-involved ED visits and hospitalizations.
Helping Our Citizens
We’re proud to live and work in Georgia, and want to create a foundation of health and wellness for all its citizens. Willingway’s inpatient rehabilitation facility services, outpatient treatment centers, and continuing care programs are designed to help as many people as possible. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, let us be a valued resource for recovery.