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Rural Substance Use Disorder Treatment: ‘The waitlists are sometimes weeks or even months long.’

Rebecca Smith

Joe Jefferies is a certified peer support specialist who lives in Fayette. They spoke about their queer identity and journey toward recovery from substance use disorder, as well as about the need for more resources in rural communities.

Joe Jefferies: So, as a kid, you know, I think there's a couple of things that are obvious about me, but the big one is that the grass is green, the sky is blue, and I'm gay. And growing up in Fayette, I didn't necessarily – I wasn't always met with the warmest reception because of that.

And that's not anything that I fought the community for. I think that we've come a long way, and I think that awareness around queer folks has come a long way, even since I was going through school.

But some of the things that I experienced with that led to some trauma that I didn't necessarily process, and instead I really just white knuckled, right?

I was like very much let me be perfect, let me overwork let me not be vulnerable. I can't be seen as having a chink in the armor because as soon as I do, I get attacked. And when I get attacked, I get hurt.

People can only bear that for so long.

And so, I ended up falling into using substances, like many people do, right? Drinking in college and then, you know, when I went up to Chicago, going out on the weekend, and then it became every night, and then eventually other substances became involved, and my mental health deteriorated.

"In that intervening time – from that point of real vulnerability and a desire for change to when your bed is available – you may fall back into using you may overdose and you may never have the opportunity to do that."
Joe Jefferies

And I ended up coming back here, right? And I still struggled for a little bit once I got back here.

I finally you know, hit a brick wall one day when I looked in the mirror and said, you know, “What am I doing? What am I doing for myself? What am I doing for my community?” and decided to pursue treatment.

I was really privileged to have private insurance, access to same day treatment and was able to, you know, go there, and get myself into a better headspace and then have been able to pursue the right treatments for me since.

For folks like me, that can be your story. But for a lot of people – those things simply aren't available.

If we have Medicaid, or we don't have insurance, you know, the closest treatment centers are in Columbia or Jefferson City, and they don't necessarily have transportation to get there.

And as somebody who works in community mental health, the waitlists are sometimes weeks or even months long to get into treatment, and in that intervening time – from that point of real vulnerability and a desire for change to when your bed is available – you may fall back into using you may overdose and you may never have the opportunity to do that, right?

There are great people doing great work. I know that there's folks with Caring Community Partnership, the [Howard County] Health Department, I know that Central Methodist does some work in education around substance use and has the Counseling Center available to students, as well.

In Boonville, there's access to several community mental health providers, but there's so much more that we can be doing to make my story, everybody's story.

I'm grateful that I get to be a beacon of hope, a beacon of change, a beacon of somebody who's leading the charge in their community, but I would love the opportunity to give that to as many other people as possible.

I don't want that weight to be on my shoulders. I want to let other people shine and to tell their stories and to be able to make positive impacts in the community right alongside me and the other folks doing great work.

Anna Spidel is a health reporter for the KBIA Health & Wealth desk. A proud Michigander, Anna hails from Dexter, Michigan and received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Michigan State University in 2022. Previously, she worked with member station Michigan Radio as an assistant producer on Stateside.
Rebecca Smith is an award-winning reporter and producer for the KBIA Health & Wealth Desk. Born and raised outside of Rolla, Missouri, she has a passion for diving into often overlooked issues that affect the rural populations of her state – especially stories that broaden people’s perception of “rural” life.