Most in US Report Personal Connection to Painkiller Abuse

The Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll periodically gauges public opinion on important health issues. It found 56% of Americans had some connection to the painkiller epidemic and 16% knew someone who had died.

More than half of Americans (56%) have a personal tie to the nation’s epidemic with opioid painkiller abuse—either they know someone addicted to prescription drugs, they are addicted themselves, or they know someone who has died from an overdose.

Whites (63%) are more likely than blacks (44%) or Hispanics (37%) to report such a connection, according to the most recent Kaiser Family Foundation Health Tracking Poll, which asked about prescription painkiller abuse in light of the attention it’s receiving. The poll appeared today.

Earlier this year, CDC released data showing a four-fold increase in deaths from heroin in the past decade, which health policymakers blamed on the leap from painkiller abuse to what is described as its “chemical cousin.” Increased availability of prescription pain medication, which started with FDA’s approval of OxyContin in the mid-1990s, is considered the origin of the current epidemic.

According to today’s poll, 16% personally know someone who has died from painkiller abuse, including 9% who say that person was a close friend or family member. In the poll, 27% say that they, or a family member or close friend, have been addicted to painkillers.

Public policy priority. Some presidential candidates have addressed painkiller abuse, in part because they say citizens bring the issue up as they campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire. Half of respondents in the Kaiser poll (50%) say reducing painkiller and heroin abuse should be a top priority for their governor and legislature. That makes the issue a lower priority than public education (76%) accessible and affordable healthcare (68%), or attracting businesses and jobs (64%), but puts it on par with protecting the environment (54%) and criminal justice reform (50%).

While it might not be the top priority, there is solid support for strategies to combat painkiller abuse. These including providing treatment for those addicted (85%), keeping track of how doctors prescribe painkillers (82%), public education (80%), physician training (79%), and teaching the public to dispose of leftover medication (69%).

About equal shares say the primary duty to combat abuse falls with the federal and state government (36% each). Republicans are somewhat more likely to prefer state government taking the lead, while Democrats would like to see more federal involvement. About 16% say the problem is a duty for local government.