Staggering Number of New Yorkers Affected By Opioid Crisis, Poll Reveals

By Paul Gaita 04/18/18

Advocates say the results of the poll are a clear indication that the government needs to step up efforts to address the crisis.

New Yorkers on the Brooklyn Bridge

New research has found that 1 in 2 New York state residents can say that they have been impacted by the national opioid crisis in a personal way—either they, a member of their immediate family, a friend, or associate has struggled with a dependency to prescription painkillers, heroin or synthetic analogues.

The poll results painted a situation that remains exceptionally and increasingly difficult in the Empire State, with more than 80% of respondents stating that they believe the epidemic is getting worse.

For treatment advocates, the news underscored their fervent opinion that state and federal governments must increase their efforts to fight the crisis.

According to the Times Union, the poll, conducted by the Siena College Research Institute and commissioned by Prescription for Progress: United Against Opioid Addiction, a coalition of leaders based in the metropolitan area around the state capital of Albany (or "Capital Region"), is the first comprehensive survey of the epidemic's impact in New York, utilizing data beyond overdose deaths and hospitalization records.

Nearly 1,400 New Yorkers were polled, and of that number, 54% said that their lives had been directly affected by the crisis. In the Capital Region, that number climbed to 58%. 

How the respondents had been impacted was further broken down by researchers, who found that 16% of the survey participants said that either they or an immediate family member has abused opioids, while 1 in 4 said that a friend or extended family member was under similar circumstances.

Another 1 in 4 said that they were aware of someone who had told them that a person in their family has abused opioids, while 14% of respondents said that their connection was through someone at their place of work.

In regard to the future of the opioid crisis on local and national levels, a majority of New Yorkers (80%) said that the U.S. was in the middle of an epidemic, while 83% said that the crisis has only gotten worse over time.

As for their own environment, 41% said that opioids were a "very serious problem" where they lived, while another 41% said that it was a "somewhat serious" problem—statistics which echo the results of a Gallup Poll in 2016, where 44% of respondents said that prescription painkiller abuse was at a very serious or crisis level where they lived.

Treatment advocates responded to the poll as a clear indication that the New York and federal governments needed to step up their efforts to address this growing problem.

"How bad do things have to get in order for state government to actually pay attention to this issue?" said John Coppola, executive director of the New York Association of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Providers. "It's going to take outrage—outrage from communities—pure and simple."

The Times Union also quoted Stephanie Campbell, executive director of Friends of Recovery-New York, who echoed Coppola's sentiment about the potency of the poll.

"That so many people outside the fields of medicine and addiction now recognize the crisis as an epidemic that's getting worse should signal to government and policymakers that the status quo is no longer acceptable," she said. "This is everyday people saying, 'Things are getting worse.' That's powerful."

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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.