Results of Seven Merged National Polls, 2016 and 2017, New England Journal of Medicine – February 1, 2018
By Barbara Goodheart, ELS
How serious is the opioid crisis? Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention give an idea: The annual rate of drug overdose deaths involving synthetic opioids (other than methadone) rose on average 18% from 1999 to 2006. Methadone’s overdose death rates started dropping in 2007 and have continued to decrease since then. Rates for the other opioids changed little during the next six years, but then rose by a staggering 88% per year from 2013 to 2016.
Many of us would consider this an emergency.
But the public doesn’t, apparently—at least not those recently polled. While 53% termed the opioid crisis a major problem, only 28% considered it a national emergency.
(The publication’s authors warned that many of the poll’s findings “may surprise people who have been following this issue in professional journals and the media.”)
So, what are your thoughts about the opioid crisis? Here are three quick questions. You can compare your answers with those from the poll.
- In your community, is the opioid crisis an emergency—or only a major problem?
- On a list of 15 key domestic policy issues, what priority rank should the government give the opioid crisis—top, middle, or bottom tier?
- Is there an effective long-term treatment for prescription-painkiller addiction? If so, how long would a cure take?
Answers, from the poll:
- Those polled considered the opioid crisis to be even less serious locally than nationally.They responded:
Only a major problem in the community: 38%
An emergency: 16%
- The opioid crisis ranks in the middle tier; sixth on the priority list; 24% rate it “extremely important priority”
- An effective long-lasting treatment is available:Yes: 49%
Don’t know: 17%
Of those saying yes, 53% think a year or more of therapy will be necessary for a cure; 43% say less than a year
More opinions, from the poll:
- Most people caught possessing nonprescribed opioids should receive treatment, without jail time: 65%
- Adults should not be allowed to buy Narcan (naloxone) from pharmacies without a prescription: 52%
- President Trump’s proposed national response to the crisis is about right: 41% (27% believe it does too little; 10%, too much)
- As for who is mainly responsible for the growing opioid abuse problem,
▬ 33% blamed doctors who inappropriately prescribe painkillers
▬ 28% blamed people who illegally sell the medications
▬ only 10% believe those who take the opioids are mainly responsible
Are Attitudes Starting to Improve?
Perhaps. Responding to the statement “Prescription drug abuse is an extremely serious public health issue,” only 19% voted yes in 2013—but 38% did so in October 2017.
Importance of the Poll
Here’s why the results of this poll are especially important. Efforts are ongoing to increase government funding for opioid addiction treatment programs—something that’s clearly needed. But many people remain on the sidelines, underestimating the seriousness of the problem, and uncertain about the effectiveness of treatment.
This attitude could dampen public support for treatment programs—and could undermine support for a government requirement that insurance cover the cost of addiction treatment.
Clearly, the authors point out, the medical and scientific communities need to further educate the public.
Contributors to the Poll
Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health Poll, Kaiser Family Foundation Polls, PBS Newshour—Marist Poll, Pew Research Center Polls, Politico-Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health Poll, and STAT-Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Poll.
For details of the poll, and sources of poll data, go to http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMp1714529?query=featured_home.
Blendon RJ, Benson JM. Perspective: The public and the opioid-abuse epidemic. N Engl J Med. February 1 2018;378:407-411. doi:10.1056/NEJMp1714529.
Hedegaard H, Warner M, Minino AM. Drug overdose deaths in the United States, 1999-2016. NCHS Data Brief, No 294. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2017.