University of Nebraska researchers are joining efforts to raise awareness among agricultural workers about substance and prescription drug use, particularly about opioids. By raising awareness, researchers hope to influence behavior change to improve the health and safety of agricultural workers.

Until recently, Nebraska was at the bottom of the list of states with opioid overdose deaths, but according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, drug overdose deaths in Nebraska are increasing, said Shinobu Watanabe-Galloway, Ph.D., co-principal investigator at the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health.

It’s estimated that 20 million people aged 12 or older had a substance use disorder related to alcohol or illicit drugs.

Researchers at UNMC, the University of Nebraska at Kearney and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension will create a $20,000 pilot study to try to find the risk level of opioid and alcohol misuse among adults 19 years and older in rural Nebraska communities. They also will determine the possibility of intervening using an anonymous, self-screening survey. The survey will be used at 12 community events held over 18 months with the goal of completing more than 300 screenings and will take about 10 minutes to complete.

Dr. Watanabe-Galloway said she and her colleagues hear stories about substance abuse issues in rural populations from rural health professionals, but researchers need to conduct a study to see how widespread it is.

“We are interested in creating awareness in communities about the risks as well as identifying the resources for those who need help,” Dr. Watanabe-Galloway said. “Not being aware of the risk of dependence on opioids is part of the problem, but a lot of people are not aware, especially in rural areas.”

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