US farmers lose their heirs to opioid epidemic

US farmers lose their heirs to opioid epidemic, by  Rhys Blakely.

As a young man Roger Winemiller, 60, who grows corn and soybeans on 3,400 acres in Wayne Township, Ohio, had dreams of leaving a share of the family farm to his three children. Then in March last year his daughter, Heather Himes, died of an opioid overdose at their farmhouse. Mr Winemiller found her collapsed in the bathroom, a syringe by her side. She was 31.

Months later his eldest son, Eugene, 37, also overdosed and died. …

Mr Winemiller’s sole surviving child, also named Roger, 35, has also battled addiction. He started with pain pills but graduated to heroin, which is far cheaper, to stave off the debilitating “dope sickness” or withdrawal symptoms that hit addicts when the high fades.

Mr Winemiller fears that his son is incapable of taking on the farm. He keeps putting off estate planning. “He doesn’t have his life together yet. As it stands, my son is not management material,” he said. …

[Heroin] is savaging the country: about 64,000 people died of drug overdoses in the US last year; a rise of more than 20 per cent on 2015 and more deaths than the US suffered during the Vietnam War. Opioid abuse is estimated to have cost $500 billion in 2015, equivalent to nearly 3 per cent of GDP. …

Why farmers?

A survey released by the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union showed that three quarters of American farmers and workers have been directly affected by opioid abuse. No other group appears to have been worse hit. …

Two factors had fuelled the epidemic: the physical nature of farm work often leads to injuries; and, starting in the 1990s, doctors were urged, even given incentives, by drug companies to prescribe powerful opioid painkillers.

It wasn’t only farm labourers who fell into the trap. High school football players and cheerleaders who injured themselves have often been prescribed painkillers. For many it was the first step on a road to hell.

Over time tens of thousands of people hooked on pills turned to heroin, which is now being edged out by fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that is about 50 times stronger. …

The dealers can purchase a kilogram of fentanyl from China for a few thousand dollars and turn it into a million dollars or more on the streets.

hat-tip Stephen Neil