Rural areas are catching up with urban areas in the extent of their drug abuse, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Some drug-abuse officials believe that rural conservatism, religious values, and strong family ties will prevent rural drug problems from ever becoming as prevalent as they are in urban areas. But other experts caution that "rebellion" against these same community strengths can lead to increased drug abuse among rural youths if no one listens to them as they grapple with a whole range of problems, including their standards of sexual conduct and future direction in life.
In Logan, W. Va., for example, drug problems appear to be on the rise, according to John Mays, clinical director of the county mental health center in Logan. Mr. Mays says greater numbers of teen-agers and young adults in this small town -- in an area affected by a coal miners' strike last spring -- are abusing drugs: More teen-agers are sniffing paint and misusing pain killers and other prescription drugs; marijuana use among 16- to 25-year-olds -- already widespread and "kind of accepted, even by the judicial system" -- seems to be increasing; and some increase is being seen in the use of cocaine among persons 25- to 40-years-old.
Yet at the same time that NIDA is reporting increased rural drug abuse, at least 25 percent of the agency's funds to help states run drug-treatment programs are being cut as of Oct. 1. NIDA's staff is being reduced from about 400 to about 250 as drug-treatment funds are shifted to bloc grants with little federal monitoring. Further cuts in NIDA money and personnel could come as a result of the latest round of federal budget cuts ordered by President Reagan.
NIDA deputy director James Lawrence says states will not feel the pinch for at least another year because of advance funding. Even then, he says, fewer federal repoting and staffing requirements will mean the cuts will not be felt so deeply.
But some other NIDA officials and some state officials say the funding reduction will mean significantly fewer residential and out-patient programs to help drug abusers in urban and rural areas. Logan's drug-treatment program is among those not likely to be affected, however, since most of its funding comes from the state, says Mays.
One type of nongovernmental effort already active in both rural and urban areas is parent groups, which national experts on drugs credit with helping make thousands of youth aware of the dangers of illicit drugs as well as encouraging parents to enforece no-drug rules in their homes. The "higher percentage of successful parent groups" formed in the past few years are in rural areas, says Bill Barton of Naples, Fla., president of the National Federation of Parents for Drug Free Youth. Federal cutbacks in drug treatment will not have much affect on rural areas because most drug programs are in urban areas, says Mr. Barton.
Until recently, most federal drug-treatment efforts have focused on heroin addicts in cities, says NIDA official George Beschner. "Rural areas got very little attention," he says. Today, while some states have tackled aggressively rural drug-abuse problems, many states have not, according to NIDA officials.
But there has been "a relatively rapid rate of increase of drug use in rural areas" during the 1970s, says Adelle V. Harrell, sociologist at George Washington University and coauthor of a NIDA-funded report issued earlier this year on rural drug abuse.
The report noted little heroin use in rural areas. But for most other illict drugs, including marijuana, the percentage of rural residents using them at least once in their life was about two-thirds the percentage of urban resdients using them at least once in their life.
"The gap has been closing to some extent," says Jerald Bachman, program director for the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. However, he says, the institute's annual national survey of high school seniors shows use of marijuana in both urban and rural areas has begun leveling off and in some cases even decreasing, says Mr. Bachman. One NIDA official cautions such decreases may be only a "statistical dip" not long lasting.