From 1999 to 2016, more than 200,000 people died in the United States from overdoses related to prescription opioids, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

If you’re tempted to dismiss this sobering statistic as merely an urban-suburban problem, think again. A survey conducted by the nation’s two largest general farm organizations shows that while less than half of rural Americans say they have been directly affected in some way by opioid addiction, 74 percent of farmers and farm workers say they have. Three in four farmers also say it would be easy for someone in their community to access prescription painkillers illegally.

“The only way we will see an end to this epidemic is by neighbors helping neighbors,” said American Farm Bureau (AFBF) Federation President Zippy Duvall.

That is why AFBF and National Farmers Union partnered in developing the Farm Town Strong campaign to raise awareness and provide resources to help rural communities work together in preventing and treating opioid addiction. You can learn more about the crisis and find information on getting help for yourself or a loved one on the Farm Town Strong website at

Not fighting the addiction battle alone

Too often, families fight this battle alone, afraid of the shame and stigma addiction carries. It’s important to remember that opioid addiction is a disease, not a moral weakness. Friends and neighbors can make a world of difference with something as simple as a conversation that allows those who are struggling to share what they’re facing.

Recovery is possible, but it is a long road and takes the support of family and community.

Although the magnitude of the opioid crisis may seem overwhelming, there are simple steps everyone can take, such as disposing of unused or expired prescription drugs in the home on a regular basis. According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), unused or expired prescription medications can lead to accidental poisoning, addiction and overdose deaths.

Disposing of drugs

Prescription drug take-back events are the best way to dispose of drugs, notes the DEA. Find a secure location to turn in your unwanted prescription medications at The service is free and anonymous with no questions asked.

Last spring, Americans turned in nearly 475 tons (949,046 pounds) of prescription drugs at more than 5,800 sites operated by the DEA and almost 4,700 of its state and local law enforcement partners. Overall, in 15 previous take-back events, DEA and its partners have taken in almost 10 million pounds — nearly 5,000 tons — of pills.

If you’re not able to dispose of old drugs at an official event, keep in mind that previously recommended methods of disposing of unused medicines — flushing them down the toilet or throwing them in the trash — are known to both pose potential safety and health hazards. Instead, the DEA advises taking medication out of bottles, mixing it with something unappealing like coffee grounds or used kitty litter, then sealing everything in a bag or disposable container and throwing it away.

Additional information about disposing of unwanted medications is available on the Farm Town Strong website at

Shearing is director of internal communications at the American Farm Bureau Federation.