Rural paper fills several pages in sample-copy edition with stories about opioid epidemic, its cost

By Al Cross, from The Rural Blog

Al Cross

Most rural newspapers shy away from reporting on the opioid epidemic, aside from its criminal-justice aspects, perhaps because they naturally avoid unpleasant news that isn’t served up to them. Not the Adair County Community Voice in Columbia, Kentucky, which started a series about the issue in a big way last week, in a sample-copy edition sent to everyone in the county of 20,000.

The Voice filled its front page with three stories about drugs, introduced with a 72-point all-caps headline, “THE COST OF ADDICTION” and a blurb reading, “The cost of addiction runs high. It has affected every family and every aspect of our community,” and inviting “anyone with a story to tell” to call Editor and Publisher Sharon Burton.

The front-page stories told of a 23-year-old mother’s drug problems and her death from fentanyl; the failure of state social workers to prevent the death of a baby born with methamphetamine in its system; and the heavy pressure that drug cases are putting on local courts and jails. On the editorial page, Burton wrote, “We must come together as a community to battle this raging beast.”

And that wasn’t all. A Health and Medical section began with a story and photo illustration (a judge posed in his courtroom) explaining the new state law that allows involuntary treatment for someone suffering from alcohol or drug abuse. Below it were a story about a woman who forced her daughter to get treatment, and one about a statewide proposal to tax electronic cigarettes. On the back page was a story citing a database recently revealed by The Washington Post giving the number of pain pills per person shipped into the county from 2006 to 2012.

This isn’t the first foray into the issue for the Voice, which is the smaller weekly in Adair County. In December it did a story about the local syringe exchange, which aims to prevent disease outbreaks among intravenous drug users and inadvertent injury from discarded needles, and found that most of the exchange’s clients were from adjoining and more populous Taylor County, which doesn’t have an exchange.

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