Research shows drug access the same in urban, rural areas

Research shows drug access the same in urban, rural areas

New research from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln shows Cornhusker State residents living in urban and rural areas have the same access to illicit drugs.
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New research from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln shows Cornhusker State residents living in urban and rural areas have the same access to illicit drugs.

Popular media often depict illicit drug use as an urban problem, but new University of Nebraska–Lincoln research shows access to illegal drugs is the same, no matter where a person lives.

Sociologist Patrick Habecker led the study examining Nebraskans' social access to illicit drugs, or knowing someone to obtain drugs from, and found that more than one-third of both urban and rural residents could obtain marijuana through someone they know.

The study also found that 18 percent of Nebraskans surveyed in the Nebraska Annual Social Indicators Survey reported access to prescription pills, including opioids. Nine percent reported access to methamphetamine and 5 percent said they knew at least one person from whom they could obtain heroin.

“There is this misperception that all drugs are in cities, but I think the first thing that jumps out here is just how many Nebraskans have access,” said Habecker, a postdoctoral research associate. “Even if we tend to think of ourselves as a state that’s a little further away from this, 35 percent of Nebraskans, age 19 or older, have access to marijuana.”

Habecker noted that since the study only examined social access, the general accessibility of illicit drugs in Nebraska is probably much higher.

“That’s a conservative estimate because it’s missing all those other sources, including internet delivery models,” Habecker said.

While social access was not changed by rural or urban surroundings, age, religion and education did play a role. Each year of older age decreased the odds of knowing a source for all four substances among both urban and rural residents.

Lower levels of education were associated with prescription pill access in urban areas, but not in rural. Also, regular religious service attendance reduced the odds of knowing a marijuana source by more than 55 percent. Religious service attendance also lessened the odds of knowing a prescription pill source in rural areas.

The study is novel in Nebraska, and understanding access is an important first step to combat use and addiction, Habecker said. He and his colleagues in Nebraska’s Research, Evaluation and Analysis for Community Health lab have been closely tracking drug use trends in rural America, and use of opioids, including both prescription pills and heroin, and methamphetamine are on the rise.

“There has not been a lot of focus on rural substance use in general,” he said. “It’s largely been city-focused and it’s clear that should probably change.”