ATLANTA, March 28, 2016 – At the Operation UNITE Summit in Atlanta today, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a series of upcoming rural town halls as well as funding rural communities can use to conduct health and safety outreach around prescription painkiller and heroin abuse. Opioids, including prescription painkillers and heroin, accounted for 28,648 deaths in 2014, and rural communities are affected at higher rates than urban communities. This is in part due to a lack of outreach and treatment resources available in rural communities, and this year USDA is expanding its Rural Health and Safety Education (RHSE) competitive grants program to give rural communities the opportunity to use funds for programs that will address the opioid epidemic.
In January, President Obama tapped Secretary Vilsack to lead an interagency task force focused on this specific challenge. Recent efforts have helped identify effective tools to reduce drug use and overdose, including evidence-based prevention programs, prescription drug monitoring, medication-assisted treatment and the overdose reversal drug naloxone.
"The opioid epidemic is a fast-growing problem all across America, and we know that rural communities are facing an even higher burden than those in urban areas," said Vilsack. "We've identified ways to use existing resources to help rural towns and organizations address this challenge head-on and potentially save lives, and I look forward to meeting with community leaders to better understand how we can further support their efforts to create healthier, safer futures for families and individuals who may be struggling."
Over the next several months, Vilsack will travel to New Hampshire, Missouri, Nevada, Mississippi and Appalachia to participate in town halls that will bring together local and state government partners, the health community, and other stakeholders to raise awareness of the issue and discuss possible solutions. Vilsack will encourage public and private organizations to commit to plans of action for their communities.
Additionally, USDA is making available $1.4 million through its Rural Health and Safety Education (RHSE) competitive grants program. Administered through USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture's (NIFA), the program's goal is to enhance the quality of life in rural areas through improved health and safety education efforts, including expanding the focus to address the critical challenges of substance abuse in rural communities across the nation. For the first time, USDA is encouraging applicants to develop projects that specifically work to educate the public about opioid abuse and overdose. USDA will also consider projects that target other health outcomes.
Since 2009, NIFA has awarded $10.6 million to the RHSE program for projects that support the health and safety needs of rural America. Fiscal year 2016 applications to the RHSE program should focus on supporting projects proposing to scale-up existing, outcome-based extension programs in the area of individual and family health education to rural communities, state-wide or regionally across state lines. Programs that apply for RHSE funding in fiscal year 2016 can focus on extension work in the realm of substance abuse, as well as nutrition and physical activity, healthy and safe homes, aging in place, as well as other behavioral health and human social topics.
Applications are due June 1, 2016. More information is available in the online Request for Applications.
Past projects funded through the RHSE program include an Oklahoma State University project that aims to improve health literacy among family and consumer sciences educators, rural hospital discharge planners, and family caregivers. A project from the University of Wisconsin seeks to increase cancer treatment education and access to services for rural residents, while also forming coalitions to address rural health disparities.
Since 2009, NIFA has invested in and advanced innovative and transformative initiatives to solve societal challenges and ensure the long-term viability of agriculture. NIFA's integrated research, education, and extension programs, supporting the best and brightest scientists and extension personnel, have resulted in user-inspired, groundbreaking discoveries that are combating childhood obesity, improving and sustaining rural economic growth, addressing water availability issues, increasing food production, finding new sources of energy, mitigating climate variability, and ensuring food safety. To learn more about NIFA's impact on agricultural science, visit www.nifa.usda.gov/impacts, sign up for email updates, or follow us on Twitter @usda_NIFA, #NIFAimpacts.
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