Thursday Roundup: Heroin’s Scourge

More media note spread of heroin outside cities • Kentucky mining jobs at record low • The broadband debate: How well are we really doing?

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The Wall Street Journal joins a growing list of news outlets noting the rise in heroin use in rural America. Formerly thought to be an urban drug, the opiate is showing up in small towns as a replacement for prescription narcotics, which are harder to get as states crack down on pain-pill abuse.

Zusha Elinson and Arian Campo-Flores report from Ellensburg, a city of 18,000 in central Washington:

The [rural] heroin scourge has been driven largely by a law-enforcement crackdown on illicit use of prescription painkillers such as oxycodone and drug-company reformulations that make the pills harder to crush and snort, drug officials say. That has pushed those who were addicted to the pills to turn to heroin, which is cheaper and more plentiful.

“Basically, you have a generation of ready-made heroin addicts,” said Matthew Barnes, special agent in charge of the [Drug Enforcement Administration’s] Seattle division.

Given the growing supply, dealers have flooded local markets with heroin. Former users interviewed in Ellensburg, who didn’t want to be identified, said dealers promoted the drug aggressively. A 21-year-old recovering addict said she made the switch from pain pills to heroin after her dealer one day held out both options in his hands and encouraged her to choose the cheaper one.

The Wall-Street Journal reports that treatment for addicts is unavailable in many small towns. In Marinette, Wisconsin, there’s no residential treatment facility, for example, says a local police sergeant.

“If somebody says, ‘I’m at bottom, I need help,’ there’s nothing that we have to give them,” said Sgt. Scott Ries of the Marinette Police Department. “It’s really sad.”

The only option is to head to cities such as Green Bay, an hour away.

News outlets across the country are picking up on the story, covering the trend in diverse locations such as Vermont, Colorado and Texas, (ABC News), Indiana (WCPO), Illinois (Christian Science Monitor) and Massachusetts (Boston Globe). We found more or less the same headline going all the way back to a 2003 Atlantic article, which said heroin was “seeping” into small towns.

Kentucky Mining Jobs. The number of coal mining jobs in Kentucky has fallen to the lowest level since the state started tracking the number way back in 1927, according to a report from the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet.

Since mid-2011, the Eastern Kentucky coalfields have lost 42% of their coal-mining jobs, reports Bill Estep in the Lexington Herald-Leader. That’s 5,700 coal jobs. The state’s western coal fields, which employ fewer workers, have lost 2.3%, Estep reports.

The coal industry in Eastern Kentucky faces a number of challenges, including competition from relatively cheap natural gas and lower-cost coal from other parts of the country; higher mining costs and declining productivity, which reflect the fact that much of the best coal has already been mined; and tougher rules aimed at protecting air and water quality.

The current downturn continues a history of up-and-down production swings in Eastern Kentucky, but federal analysts have predicted production won’t return to the level of even a few years ago.

Declining production is having a ripple effect in coalfield counties, where some revenue for local government comes from a severance tax on coal.

Broadband Debate. America is doing great with broadband access, but it could do a little better. That’s the message in a Billings Gazette op/ed from Richard Bennett of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a nonpartisan Washington D.C. think tank.

Rural areas need a little extra attention, he says, but in general things are going great. “We should be more aggressive in subsidizing faster networks in rural areas and in stimulating computer ownership and Internet skills broadly among Americans, but our overall broadband system is working well,” Bennett writes.

Bennett says “some inside-the-beltway advocates argue that our private broadband services aren’t any good. They distort figures on international speed, price and subscription rates to make their case, but thoughtful study of the data shows that the U.S. is doing quite well overall and does not need a radical makeover.”

This appears to be a dig at a previous op/ed in the Gazette from Harold Feld of Public Knowledge, another D.C.-based organization with a slightly different take on broadband policy. Feld says the broadband report has improved in the past year, but only from a D to a C minus. Feld says lack of wired broadband access will hurt the American economy.

To see how your state is doing with wired broadband access, see the state list in this story from Brian Whitacre, Roberto Gallardo and Sharon Strover. These researchers found about a third of rural counties lack wired broadband for 40% or more of their population. 

 

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