Many rural Nebraskans think alcohol abuse and drug use are serious problems or crises in their communities, particularly in larger communities, according to the 2018 Nebraska Rural Poll.
Nearly half of rural Nebraskans surveyed said alcohol abuse and methamphetamine use were serious problems or crises. Just over one-third said marijuana use was a problem.
“People living in rural communities of 10,000 or more are more likely to say drug and alcohol abuse is a problem in their community,” said Becky Vogt, survey research manager for the Rural Poll — the largest annual poll of rural Nebraskans’ perceptions on quality of life and policy issues.
Seven in 10 respondents living in or near the largest communities said methamphetamine use was a serious problem or crisis, while only 23 percent of respondents living in or near the smallest communities said it was a serious problem.
The poll indicates that Panhandle residents were most likely to say abuse of strong prescription painkillers, heroin and other opioids, methamphetamines and marijuana were problems in their communities. Over half of Panhandle residents surveyed said meth use was a serious problem or crisis.
A combination of factors may be influencing the Panhandle response, according to Cheryl Burkhart-Kriesel at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff.
“Many of our news media sources are located in neighboring states such as Colorado and South Dakota, so we not only hear about Nebraska, but we also hear about their issues,” she said. “Also, with Colorado law being more accepting of marijuana use, our local law enforcement has seen an increase in transportation issues, which undoubtedly impacts use.”
Much attention has been given recently to the abuse of prescription painkillers. Overall, just over two in 10 rural Nebraskans surveyed said this was a serious problem or crisis. This also was more pronounced in larger communities and the Panhandle. Just over one-quarter of rural Nebraskans said they or someone they know had been personally affected by the abuse of prescription painkillers.
Despite the concern over these issues, less than half of the respondents across all regions said they thought the situation had gotten worse over the past five years.
The response rate for this year’s poll was 27 percent. The margin of error is plus or minus 2 percent. Complete poll results are available here.
Although the Grand Island area (Hall, Hamilton, Howard and Merrick counties) was designated a metropolitan area by the U.S. Census Bureau in 2013, the Rural Poll continues to include those counties in its sample.
The University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Department of Agricultural Economics conducts the poll in partnership with the Nebraska Rural Futures Institute. Funding comes from Nebraska Extension and the Agricultural Research Division in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.