Drug Abuse Is Quiet Scandal in America's Countrysides

Article excerpt

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 options?" 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. …