New Survey Shows Americans Support Policies To Stop Painkiller Abuse

By Paul Gaita 10/19/15

One in four Americans reported taking a prescription painkiller within the past year.

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A new study about the impact of prescription painkiller abuse revealed a wide array of attitudes and opinions about the epidemic, including broad support for policies that would aid in curbing overdoses and increase treatment for addicts.

The survey, conducted by investigators from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, polled more than 1,000 adults in the United States with an Internet-based public opinion survey in February 2014.

Among their findings, which were published online in Addiction, were that one in four Americans reported taking a prescription painkiller within the past year, while 70% of respondents reported that they have taken a narcotic painkiller at some point during their lifetime. Nearly 20% of those surveyed said that they had taken painkillers that were prescribed for someone else.

In regard to treating painkiller addiction, almost 60% of respondents regarded prescription opioid abuse as significant a health threat as gun violence and tobacco use. A majority of these individuals laid the blame for the crisis on doctors who either kept prescribing these drugs to patients for too long, or made it very easy for individuals to get more than one prescription for certain drugs.

Respondents gave broad support for an array of policies aimed at combating painkiller abuse, including requiring pharmacies to verify patient identification before filling pain medication prescriptions (84%), requiring medical schools and physicians residency programs to provide training in how to detect and treat addiction to such medication (83%), and treating chronic pain (82%).

Policies that did not earn broad support included expanded distribution of medications like naloxone that can reverse the effects of opioid overdose, which was embraced by just 47% of respondents, and increasing government spending on addiction treatment (39%).

Regardless, the researchers were encouraged by the responses generated by their survey.

“We think this is the perfect time to work on passing policies that can truly impact the crisis of prescription pain abuse,” said study co-author Emma McGinty, an assistant professor at the Bloomberg School. “The issue has not yet been highly politicized like some public health issues such as the Affordable Care Act, gun violence or needle exchanges, so we may have an opportunity to stem this epidemic.”

According to a 2012 estimate, some 2.1 million people in the United States suffer from addiction to prescription pain relievers.

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.