[imgcontainer right] [img:Old+West+002.jpeg] Loading and hauling grain on the Great Plains in the 1950s. Pending federal regulations could require farmers who haul their grain from field to town to obtain a commercial driver’s license. [/imgcontainer]

The Burlington (VT) Free Press’s Sam Hemingway has begun a series on prescription drug abuse in Vermont. 

The story is familiar to those who have followed the spread of this kind of drug addiction in Appalachia. Now the curse is in Vermont, nation’s most rural state and also one of the richest. 

Vermont Health Commissioner Harry Chen says the problem has reached “epidemic proportions.” The drug of choice is OxyContin, an opiate. And the number of people affected is rising. Vermont ranks second behind Maine in per capita admissions for treatment of addiction to prescription opiates. The number of people in Vermont seeking treatment is up 300% in 2010 over 2005.

Many of the stories Hemingway are straight out of Appalachia — the things people will do to score drugs, the trips to Florida’s “pill mills” to get an easy prescription.

Hemingway tells an interesting story about a bus accident that happened in Vermont. The bus was filled with Korean tourists. They were pretty well bunged up and doctors in Vermont offered them prescriptions for pain pills. The Koreans didn’t want them. They took some aspirin, but they figured hurting was just part of the process of being in an accident.

That’s not the American way. The U.S. has 4.6% of the world’s population, but consumes 80% of the world’s opiods. And the number of prescriptions continues to rise.

“I had an emergency room physician in Rutland tell me that we’ve created a monster,” a doctor said in part two of Hemingway’s series. “We have these drugs out there that are very addictive. People, by their natural physiology, become tolerant of them, and over time, we have to increase the dosage. How do you as a doctor judge when a patient is abusing the drugs, selling them or just truly becoming more tolerant of them?” 

• if you want updates on the conference going on this week in Kansas City on rural philanthropy, check out this site.

•The Billings Gazette’s Tom Lutey reports that federal regulators are suggesting that farmers hauling crops or driving farm equipment on public roads be required to have a commercial driver’s license.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is accepting comment on a proposed rule that would require the commercial license for farmers — and all the log books and medical exams that come with it. Lutey reports:

The licenses would also be required of farmers driving farm equipment down public roads. Farmers hauling grain for a neighbor or landlord would be considered commercial drivers hauling for someone else.

Ranchers hauling livestock in trailers as small as 16 feet would also be subject to the new rules.

Ranchers are in no way happy.

Cassandra Heyne has found a history of rural telecoms in Iowa and tells some stories about how phone service came to the state. 

There were so many mutual or cooperative associations involved in early phone service. Farmers got together (Ayrshire Farmers Mutual Telephone) or German Pietists with the Amana Colonies. What a difference in times. Back then, people cooperated to create their phone service. Today, we worry about whether AT&T will keep its word to bring broadband to rural America if it is allowed to merge with T-Mobile.

• Government subsidies to farmers have shrunk to $11 billion a year, half of what they were just six years ago. And they could be halved again under some plans in Congress, according to the Wall Street Journal. And with commodity prices high, price support payments aren’t going out. 

“Subsidies are just eroding away,” said J. Mark Welch, an economist at Texas A&M University. “We don’t envision farmers here ever seeing a price-support check again,” said Darrel Good, a University of Illinois economist. “It’s the end of an era.”

• The Postal Service is considering closing more than one in ten of its 31,000 offices.

Most of the offices being considered for closure are in rural areas, the AP reports

• Democrats continue to oppose a House Republican bill that would eliminate $16.5 million in air service subsidies for 13 rural airports. As a result, a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration hasn’t passed.

The GOP provision would eliminate subsides to any airport less than 90 miles from a hub airport or where the subsidy averages more than $1,000 per passenger. 

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