When thinking about opioid misuse and overdose, the first thought may be urban centers instead of rural communities and farming. However, both rural and urban areas find a common thread in addressing and understanding the impact of opioids, and how to help those affected.  

In 2017, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and the National Farmers Union conducted a survey to understand the impact of opioids on rural communities and the results were staggering. The survey found that three out of four farmers or farm workers have been directly impacted by opioid abuse. However, of the people surveyed, most were unaware that rural communities are impacted the greatest by the opioid crisis. 

 “It just made sense that we needed to approach it from a safety and wellness side of agriculture,” said Minnesota Farm Bureau (MFB) Foundation Director Ruth Meirick. “We felt like we had to bring awareness to those areas of the state that don’t always get it.”

The campaign could not have been launched at a more important time for Minnesota. According to the state drug overdose dashboard, opioid deaths increased drastically throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with 678 opioid-involved deaths in Minnesota in 2020 alone. Meirick partnered with the Rx Abuse Leadership Initiative of Minnesota (RALI), to secure funding to run a widespread campaign with the goal of raising awareness about the opioid epidemic in Minnesota. The initial campaign spread across multiple media platforms including radio, billboards and social media.

Outside of the media campaign, Meirick traveled to greater Minnesota to meet with rural community members. Through this outreach, she noticed the impact of these hard-hitting conversations. Not only were the events attended by Farm Bureau members, but also people of varying walks of life affected by opioids and overdose.

 “It’s allowed us the opportunity for people to tell their stories, to break down that barrier and let people know it's okay to talk about it,” said Meirick. 

The work of the MFB Foundation gained national traction not only within the AFBF, but with the health professional industry as well. Since starting the program Meirick has spoken at the National Opioid Summit, AFBF Annual Meeting and a RALI event in Washington, D.C. In 2020, the work of the MFB Foundation was recognized with the American Farm Bureau New Horizon Award, which acknowledges the most innovative new programs from state Farm Bureau’s nationwide. 

“We were humbled to receive this recognition, and extremely proud of the great work our Farm Bureau members are doing to keep our communities and families safe,” said Meirick. 

As the Foundation looks to continue positively impact rural communities about opioid awareness through farmer-to-farmer conversations, Meirick offered some words of advice for those looking to become involved: “Don’t be afraid to talk about it and reach out to organizations that would be willing to partner with you to share your story and make a difference.” 

For more information about the opioid epidemic and its effects on rural communities, please visit farmtownstrong.org. There you will find resources including opioid statistics, an opioid hotline, information about treatment centers, and proper disposal methods for opioids.