New Training & Technical Assistance Center Dedicated to Rural Opioid Misuse

A 2017 survey by two leading farm advocacy groups, the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation, found that nearly 50 percent of rural Americans and 74 percent of farmers have been directly impacted by opioid misuse. Additionally, the correlation between increased substance use and poor mental health is well documented in research literature. It is estimated that approximately half of people who experience substance use disorders also report having a mental health illness.

To address co-occurring issues related to mental health and opioid misuse disorders prevalent in rural communities, UW–Madison Extension and the School of Medicine and Public Health (SMPH) were awarded $1.3 million from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). For the next two years, the Health and Well-Being Institute of the Division of Extension and SMPH will house the SAMHSA Great Lakes Rural Opioid Technical Assistance Regional Center of Excellence (ROTA-R) for Health and Human Services Region 5 (IL, IN, MI, MN, OH, WI).

Extension’s Jennifer Park-Mroch, Ph.D. and SMPH’s Dr. Randall Brown will coordinate and lead the six states’ in developing and strengthening community capacity to prevent, treat, and support recovery for opioid use disorder and other mental health and substance use disorders across the region. Each state will address the unique needs and utilize the unique strengths of its rural communities to create regional communities of practice.

The project’s efforts will holistically address substance use disorders within the context of families and communities. Along with Extension partners at the University of Illinois, Purdue University, Michigan State University, the University of Minnesota, and the Ohio State University, the Health and Well-Being Institute and the School of Medicine and Public Health will work with local communities to tailor their offerings to match local needs and build upon community strengths.

Aiming to prevent opioid misuse through virtual and in-person, culturally and linguistically relevant, and evidence-based programming and community education, the team will address issues of youth substance misuse, creating culturally relevant Indigenous health education, harm reduction education, and mental health and substance abuse awareness.

Principal Investigator Jennifer Park-Mroch, Ph.D. said, “This project has the capacity to leverage regional expertise and the funds to improve Extension’s coordinated efforts to address the complex relationships between mental health and substance use disorders in rural areas. Even though we have historically collaborated with cooperative extensions in other states, we’re looking forward to formalizing these relationships and supporting collaborative efforts across the Midwest.”

Look for future training and education opportunities on