Americans Increasingly Concerned About Opioid Epidemic, Most Concerned About Easy Access

MAY 08, 2018
Matt Hoffman
Saul Levin, MD, MPA
Newly released data from a national poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) has shown that the American public appears to be greatly concerned about the national opioid crisis—the information revealed that 46% of Americans believe that the crisis is impacting people like themselves, up 9% from the previous year.

Announced at the APA’s annual meeting in New York City, the survey also revealed that 31% reported that they know someone who was or is addicted to opioids. It is estimated that roughly 2 million patients in the United States have some sort of substance disorder related to prescription opioid pain medicines, while overdose deaths related to both prescription and illicit opioid use doubled from 2010 to 2016, from roughly 21,000 to 42,000.

According to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), deaths from prescription opioids—including oxycodone, hydrocodone, and methadone—have more than quadrupled since 1999, and with an estimated 91 Americans perishing each day from an opioid overdose.

“Our poll findings show that Americans are increasingly aware of the problem of opioid addiction and increasingly believe people can recover,”  said Saul Levin, MD, MPA, the APA’s CEO and medical director, in a statement. “The crisis has become personal to many and they want to see treatment available for those affected. We are ready to work with the Administration and Congress to curb this national epidemic.”

According to the poll, 74% of US adults say they understand how accidental opioid addiction occurs, and 80% believe that people can recover from the condition, compared to 73% the previous year. In fact, 9% said they had taken an opioid painkiller without a prescription, while 5% said they had abused or been addicted to a prescription painkiller at some point (an increase of 1% from 2017).

Compared to 2017, 6% more US adults believe that it is easy to get access to opioids for unlawful use (46% in 2018), with millennials (52%) believing this more so than baby boomers (41%). Studies have shown that those who misuse opioids are most often acquiring them through a friend or family member with a prescription.

Data from a comprehensive evaluation of US drug overdose data from 2016 conducted by the CDC in March 2018, the opioid epidemic has spread geographically and increased across demographic groups. The study, based on data from 31 states and Washington, DC, found that the largest increase in opioid overdose deaths was in males between the ages of 25 and 44. In total, overall drug overdose death rates rose by 21.5%, with those linked to non-methadone synthetic opioids increased more than 2-fold.

“No area of the United States is exempt from this epidemic—we all know a friend, family member, or loved one devastated by opioids,” said Anne Schuchat, MD, the CDC’s principal deputy director, in March. “All branches of the federal government are working together to reduce the availability of illicit drugs, prevent deaths from overdoses, treat people with substance-use disorders, and prevent people from starting using drugs in the first place.”

In terms of policy, 62% of Americans polled by the APA said they believe improving access to the treatment should be lawmakers’ top priority to address the issue, while 26% believe stricter punishment and enforcement should be the route taken to tackle it.

These data were retrieved from an APA-sponsored online poll using ORC International’s CARAVAN Omnibus Survey, which were collected from a nationally representative sample of 1004 US adults from March 22 to 25, 2018 and compared with data from April 20 to 23, 2017, of 1019 adults. The margin of error was ±3.1 percentage points.

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