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20% in US Have Family Member Addicted to Opioids; Most Say Not Enough Being Done

Mary Caffrey
The poll found most Americans remain unaware of federal parity laws on access to mental health care, 2 years into the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
More than 4 in 10 Americans know someone addicted to prescription painkillers, and for 1 in 5 that person is a family member, according to the April Kaiser Health Tracking poll, according to results released today.

Many are to blame for the current twin epidemic of addiction to opioid pain pills and heroin, the pollsters found. Americans pin the current situation a combination of federal and state governments, doctors who prescribe too much medication, and the individual addicts.

The poll of 1201 adults, constituted a nationally representative sample and was taken between April 12 and 19, 2016. It found that 44% of Americans say they personally know someone who has been addicted to prescription painkillers, including 20% who said that person was a member of their family; 2% reported being addicted themselves.

One group that most Americans do not blame are police officers charged with enforcing drug laws; only 36% of respondents say they are not doing enough to combat addiction to pain medication and 37% say they are not doing enough about heroin.

The poll also found that Americans perceive significant gaps in the availability of mental health services, and there is large lack of awareness that insurers must cover mental health care, 2 years into the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

Who’s Not Doing Enough?

When asked which groups were not doing enough to combat the twin addictions, 73% of respondents said individual addicts were responsible for their prescription painkiller abuse, and 77% of respondents blamed individuals for their heroin use.

About two-thirds of respondents blamed various levels of government for the prescription painkiller crisis—66% say the federal government is not doing enough, and 67% say state governments could be doing more. When it comes to heroin abuse, 62% say the federal government could do more and 61% say state governments could do more.

Doctors only fare slightly better. Of the respondents, 63% said physicians who prescribe prescription painkillers could be doing more to fight that epidemic, and 56% said doctors could be doing more about heroin use.

The CDC has found that physicians are not without blame in the rise of the opioid epidemic, and the public health agency recently published a new guideline to assist physicians in prescribing prescription pain medication. CDC authors note that the huge spike in opioid prescriptions—up 7.3% per capita from 2007 to 2012—could not be explained for health reasons.

What Should Be Done?

Pollsters asked what strategies would work to combat addiction, and the most popular responses were: increase pain management training for doctors and medical students (88%), increase access to addiction programs (86%), public awareness and education (84%), increase research about pain management (83%), and monitoring doctors’ prescription painkiller prescribing habits (82%).

Fewer Americans had confidence in strategies such as encouraging patients to dispose of extra painkillers once they are not needed (63%), reducing social stigma about addiction (60%), and putting warning labels on bottles (40%).

Access to Mental Health Services

One in 5 Americans (21%) said that they or someone in their immediate family had previously needed access to mental health care and was unable to get it. Reasons for this included: they could not afford it (13%), insurance would not pay (12%), they were afraid or embarrassed (10%), and they didn’t know how to get care (8%).

Most Americans remain unaware of federal parity laws that require insurers to cover mental health care and substance abuse treatment on the same terms as other medical conditions. Only 43% knew this was the case for mental health care generally, and only 30% knew this applied to substance abuse.

A large majority (87%) say lack of access to mental health care is a problem, and 73% say it is a major problem. Respondents reported that those who have mental health issues experience discrimination, including 42% who said this happens to people with depression and 32% who said this happens to people with anxiety.

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