The New England Journal of Medicine compiled data from seven research polls from 2016 and 2017 to discern how the public feels about the opioid crisis. Many interesting findings emerged. Many of the results were promising and indicated an empathic shift in public opinion, while others show we can still do better to reduce stigma and direct resources towards addiction. Here is a summary of some of the results:
- “A majority of the public considers addiction to prescription pain medication a major problem nationally (53%) but does not deem it a national emergency (28%) (Politico–HSPH, 2017).”
- Only 16% consider America’s painkiller use an emergency and 38% consider it a problem within their own community.
- “Nearly 4 in 10 people (38%) currently believe [the opiate epidemic] is an extremely serious public health problem, double the proportion (19%) who believed so in 2013 (Pew, 2013 and 2017).”
- 47% of people agreed that medical and mental health professionals are the most responsible for treating addiction in addition to the government playing a role.
- The public primarily blames doctors and bad prescribing practices for the opioid epidemic. They also blame people who sell opiates illegally. Only 10% of people blame the people who take prescription opioids themselves.
- “A MAJORITY believe that people addicted to painkillers have an ILLNESS (53%) rather than a PERSONAL WEAKNESS (36%) (PBS–Marist, 2017).”
- “About half of people (49%, in an average of two polls) say they know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers (KFF, July 2016; PBS–Marist, 2017).”
- “One in five people (20%) who knew someone in the past 5 years who abused prescription painkillers said it had led to the person’s death (STAT–HSPH, 2016).”
- The public is essentially split on whether the government should limit doctor’s prescribing practices of opioids.
- 55% of respondents expressed concerns that limitations on prescribing would make it harder for people who truly needed opioids to get them.
- “…only about half of the public (49%) believes there’s a treatment for prescription-painkiller addiction that’s effective long-term. About half either believe there is no long-lasting treatment (34%)…”
- Respondants were basically split on whether health insurance plans should be required to provide extensive substance use treatment coverage.
- 65% of people thought that people found in possession of opioids which were not prescribed to them should be given treatment rather than imprisonment.
It is encouraging that the public opinion is changing in a more compassionate direction. Much advocacy work is still needed to educate the public and reduce stigma. If you or someone you love is struggling with prescription opioid misuse, AToN is available to help.
Sarah Zucker, Psy.D.
AToN Center 888-535-1516