Hannah Harmon’s children are playing outside the clinic in southeast Ohio where she gets family counseling twice a month. Staff keep an eye on them as the parking lot fills up with patients seeking dental fillings, pain pills and sympathy. Harmon has five children now: This month she took legal custody of three more kids, siblings from a relative’s family wrecked by drugs.
The government agency helping fund the clinic Harmon visits? The U.S. Department of Agriculture. Created in the mid-19th century to ensure the future of farming, it’s becoming Uncle Sam’s lead tool to fight a social emergency — soaring drug use, rising suicide rates and deepening poverty — spreading across the heartland. “We’re charged with the responsibility of filling the gap to make sure rural America hasn’t been forgotten,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says.
That’s a daunting task at a time of many-headed crisis for largely white, rural communities like Pomeroy, a town of about 1,800 people about 200 miles south of Cleveland, where the Republican convention gathered this week. The opioid epidemic has accompanied an ebbing-away of jobs and, among some demographics, an unprecedented drop in life expectancy. Any Norman Rockwell idyll of white-picket fences and unlocked front doors has long since been upended by globalization. – READ MORE