The Department of Agriculture wants to hear from electric cooperatives on how their communities are fighting opioid abuse to strengthen the federal government's effort to help rural communities address the crisis.

USDA is sharing those stories on a new interactive map on its Opioid Misuse in Rural America website launched earlier this year. The map lists community-based programs in several states addressing abuse through prevention, treatment and recovery.

Co-ops' involvement in their communities make them a valuable partner to help address the complexities of the opioid crisis, said Anne Hazlett, USDA assistant to the secretary for rural development.

"Whether sponsoring a Little League team or training local students to become the next generation of line technicians, rural electric cooperatives are key assets to building strong rural communities," said Hazlett.

"As rural leaders now come together to heal and build resilience in our small towns, we are looking for examples of tangible actions that can be replicated in other communities across rural America."

Co-ops can contribute information on the website's "What's working in your town?" form. Currently, map data comes from two sources: agencies attending the USDA's regional opioid roundtables and the online form.

The website addition is the latest USDA resource available to help rural communities address the opioid crisis. In April, the agency announced it was reserving $5 million in the Community Facilities Grants Program and is giving priority to the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program for applications proposing anti-opioid projects.

In 2016, nearly 64,000 Americans died from a drug overdose, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. More than half of those deaths involved opioids, including prescription drugs and heroin.

Research shows those fatalities have hit rural areas hard. For example, a December 2017 survey by the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation found that the opioid crisis has affected as many as 74 percent of farmers.

Related content: Broadband and the Opioid Epidemic: The Power of Connection in Rural America, an op-ed by USDA's Anne Hazlett.

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