Sleepy towns across rural America - from Goddard, Kan., to
Clare, Mich. - are waking up to a drug problem every bit as
troubling as the one that besets cities and suburbs.
Abuse of alcohol, marijuana, and certain stimulants is now
higher among rural users than among urbanites, according to 1994 US
data on admission rates to treatment facilities. Heroin and cocaine
may be more in vogue in cities, but the rate of drug use overall is
about the same among urban and rural Americans.
Though increasing in the 1990s, substance abuse in rural areas
is not a new phenomenon. Still, many smaller communities are only
now addressing the drug problem, experts say.
"A lot of communities were in denial, and now they are waking
up," says Karen Archer-Sorg, coordinator for the Governor's
Commission for a Drug-Free Indiana in Fort Wayne, Ind.
Coalitions from small towns across the US held a weekend summit
in Wichita, Kan., to compare strategies on combatting illicit drug
and alcohol use, drug trafficking, gang infiltration, and violence.
Ms. Archer-Song was among more than 150 representatives from small
towns and cities attending the National Rural Summit on Substance
Abuse and Violence, organized by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions
of America in Alexandria, Va.
Drug use is now the No. 1 concern of sheriffs in counties with
populations under 50,000, with 79 percent calling it a "serious
problem," according to a new rural crime study by Illinois State
University at Normal, Ill. Drinking and driving was the second
biggest worry, cited by 71 percent of the law-enforcement
officials; drug trafficking and production was the fourth.
"Just like go-go boots and Hula-Hoops, everything is ultimately
going to come to the Midwest," says Nola Foulston, district
attorney in Wichita, Kan., referring to the spread of drug
trafficking and gangs in heartland cities such as Wichita, Oklahoma
City, Des Moines, and Kansas City, Mo.
A consensus emerging from the summit was that rural communities
can no longer wait for the federal government's
multi-billion-dollar "war on drugs" to solve local substance-abuse
problems. (President Clinton has requested $15.3 billion for the
antidrug effort for fiscal 1997.)
"In rural communities in this state, you can get any drug you
want," says Penny Norton, a summit speaker and project director of
the Mid-State Substance Abuse Commission in Clare, Mich. "The war
on drugs doesn't work. So why aren't we talking about other
The war on drugs underemphasizes alcohol abuse, the biggest
problem for rural areas, many contend. "Alcohol is the constant in
rural communities - at parties, at gatherings, out on the dirt
road," says Ms. …