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Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island held a hearing yesterday on drug use in rural areas. Some 200 people turned out for the event in Barre, Vermont.

Turns out that drug use in rural areas is less than in the suburbs or urban areas. “In 2008, Americans living in rural areas used illicit drugs at lower overall levels of current use (approximately 6 percent) than their counterparts in suburban and metropolitan areas (8-9 percent),” said R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (above). “Rural Americans also show lower rates of diagnosable drug abuse and dependence.” Rural young people do use more methamphetamine than urban kids (about double the rate for urban). Ditto for use of OxyContin. Rural kids also drink more than urban kids. (Andrew Clevenger at the Charleston Gazette has pulled some good quotes from the hearing here, in the Sustained Outrage blog.) 

Kerlikowske also said rural areas have had a rapid increase in the number of overdose deaths. Rural states like Vermont, Maine and West Virginia all had large increases in the number of deaths by drug overdose from 1999 to 2004.

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