Marshfield Clinic studying substance use disorder, recovery in Northwoods

Substance use is understudied in rural areas
Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 7:22 PM CDT
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MARSHFIELD, Wis. (WSAW) - Drug and alcohol addiction can impact anyone across the country, but the problem can look different in rural communities.

The Marshfield Clinic’s National Farm Medicine Center is studying the different factors that lead to substance abuse in rural areas. The in-depth study is to better understand the landscape of substance abuse disorder in the rural parts of Wisconsin.

“This is a big issue in rural areas,” said Kate Barnes, the project manager for the Marshfield Clinic.

Barnes is studying substance use disorder and recovery in Wisconsin’s Northwoods by looking at drug and alcohol use in rural areas.

“And it’s really understudied in rural areas. So much of what we know comes from urban areas,” said Barnes.

Barnes interviewed about a dozen substance users in recovery to determine where their addictions may have stemmed from.

“One of the trends we’re seeing is how these issues can start very early and not necessarily stem from anything tied directly to drugs and alcohol,” said Barnes.

But rural areas like the Northwoods can be a hurdle when it comes to recovery.

“It’s very medically underserved and the social services are very scattered. So what we know works in urban areas, those resources just aren’t available, or aren’t great options, in rural areas,” said Barnes.

Barnes said issues like poverty, low income, and lack of opportunity are key to addressing substance abuse problems in rural areas. Small family farmers are another focus.

“It could be farmers are under a lot of stress to produce more for less and to stay financially viable in a lot of cases,” said Barnes.

Meaning if a farmer gets injured, they may try to mask the pain for temporary relief.

“You can take the pill. It gets rid of the pain and then you can go back out into the fields,” said Barnes.

Farmers being busy during the work season or being uninsured, can lead to putting off procedures.

“Being hours away from the nearest health clinic, it’s just too easy to put that health service off and just keep using those pain pills so you can keep doing your job,” said Barnes.

The study proves substance abuse can affect everyone.

“I really believe if we can learn more about those rural issues in our urban areas, not only can we better address substance abuse, but we can better address a whole range of health issues in our community,” said Barnes.