More drug use, less treatment in Appalachia

A higher proportion of people in Appalachia abuse prescription painkillers than in the rest of the nation, and the problem is even greater in coal-mining areas such as Eastern Kentucky, according to a federal study.

Compounding the problem, relatively few facilities in Appalachia offer short and long-term residential treatment — the kind of service needed by many people addicted to OxyContin and other painkillers.

"There's truly an access-to-health-care disparity for these coal-producing counties that we need to address," said David Mathews, director of adult services with Kentucky River Community Care, which provides services including substance-abuse and mental-health treatment in eight Eastern Kentucky counties.

The findings are included in a new study of access to substance-abuse and mental-health treatment in Appalachia that was underwritten by the Appalachian Regional Commission — a federal-state partnership that works to create opportunities for self-sustaining economic development and a better life for Appalachian residents.

The study underlines the cyclical relationships between poverty, depression and drug abuse in parts of Appalachia, and the resulting need for more treatment facilities.

Anne Pope, federal co-chair of the agency, and Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear announced the results at a news conference Tuesday in London, Ky.

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