Illegal drugs aren’t tough to get in rural places

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Popular media often depict illegal drug use as an urban problem rather than a rural one, but a new study shows access to illicit drugs is the same, no matter where a person lives.

Sociologist Patrick Habecker looked at Nebraskans’ social access to illegal drugs— knowing someone to obtain drugs from—and found that more than one-third of both urban and rural residents could obtain marijuana through someone they know.

The study also found that 18 percent of Nebraskans surveyed in the Nebraska Annual Social Indicators Survey reported access to prescription pills, including opioids. Nine percent reported access to methamphetamine and 5 percent said they knew at least one person from whom they could obtain heroin.

“There is this misperception that all drugs are in cities, but I think the first thing that jumps out here is just how many Nebraskans have access,” says Habecker, a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“Even if we tend to think of ourselves as a state that’s a little further away from this, 35 percent of Nebraskans, age 19 or older, have access to marijuana.”

Since the study only examined social access, the general accessibility of illicit drugs in Nebraska is probably much higher, Habecker notes.

“That’s a conservative estimate because it’s missing all those other sources, including internet delivery models.”

Rural or urban surroundings didn’t change social access, but age, religion, and education did play a role. Each year of older age decreased the odds of knowing a source for all four substances among both urban and rural residents.

Lower levels of education were associated with prescription pill access in urban areas, but not in rural. Also, regular religious service attendance reduced the odds of knowing a marijuana source by more than 55 percent.

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Religious service attendance also lessened the odds of knowing a prescription pill source in rural areas.

Understanding access is an important first step to combat use and addiction, Habecker says. He and his colleagues have been closely tracking drug use trends in rural America, and use of opioids, including prescription pills and heroin, as well as methamphetamine is on the rise.

“There has not been a lot of focus on rural substance use in general. It’s largely been city-focused and it’s clear that should probably change.”

The findings appear in the Journal of Drug Issues.

Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln