Whitesburg KY

Study: Region suffers more mental health, drug woes


Researchers commissioned by the Appalachian Regional Commission reported Tuesday that people living in the Appalachian coalfields suffer from higher rates of stress and depression and are more prone to prescription drug abuse than those living in the rest of the country.

Anne Pope, head of the federal agency charged with ministering to Appalachia’s needs, said the good news is that the 13-state region stretching from New York to Alabama appears to be doing better than the rest of the nation in providing treatment.

For years, political leaders, including Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear, have been describing prescription drug abuse in the region as a scourge.

Beshear, who joined Pope in the Appalachian town of London to release the research, agreed that the findings by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago reflect “a major problem” in the region.

“We all knew empirically that there was a problem,” Pope said. “But this is the first time that a study really gives the cold hard facts.”

Researchers found:

— Mental health disorders are proportionately higher in Appalachia than in the rest of the nation.

— Residents of central Appalachia have higher rates of serious psychological stress and major depression than their neighbors in northern and southern Appalachia.

— Admission rates for prescription drug abuse is rising across the nation, but at a faster pace in Appalachia, especially in coal mining communities. The rate in Appalachia is more than twice that of the U.S., and it doubled from 2000 to 2004.

The information on which the National Opinion Research Center drew those conclusions came from treatment centers and community hospitals as well as national surveys on mental health and substance abuse.

Pope said prescription drug abuse has been a “major impediment to economic growth in the Appalachian region.” She said the National Opinion Research Center report will help policy makers to “scientifically understand the scope of the problem” and to formulate solutions.

The discovery that stress, depression and drug abuse is high in a region noted for poverty and joblessness is no great surprise, Beshear said.

“When people don’t have good jobs to support familiies, I think that leads to depression and anxiety, which in tern leads to substance abuse.”

The Appalachian region has been a hotbed for abuse of prescription painkillers, like OxyContin, which have been blamed for hundreds of deaths across the country in recent years.

Because of its popularity among drug Appalachian drug abusers, OxyContin has been dubbed Heroin of the Hills.

While prescription drug abuse is rampant, the National Opinion Research Center researchers found that Appalachian residents are less likely to abuse methamphetamine, marijuana, cocaine and heroin than their counterparts across the nation.

Pope said the prescription drug abuse issue needs to be dealt with if the Appalachian region is to prosper economically.

“Substance abuse not only drains the resources of a family, it drains the resources of a community,” she said. “It drains the resources of a region.”

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