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The Washington Post/Kaiser Family Foundation Survey of Long-Term Prescription Painkiller Users and Their Household Members

Section 3: Views of Prescription Painkiller Epidemic

Prescription Painkiller Abuse Is One of Many Serious Health Issues

For those personally using prescription painkillers long-term, the abuse of painkillers ranks last on a list of health issues facing the country today. Those personally using in the South (73 percent) are more likely to say opioid abuse is a very serious problem than those in the Midwest (60 percent) or West (41 percent).

Table 4: Abuse of Prescription Painkillers Ranks Low Among Several Health Issues, But Majorities Say Abuse Is a Very Serious Problem
Percent who say each health issue is a VERY SERIOUS problem in this country:
Personally taking prescription
painkillers long-term
U.S. Adults
Cancer 87% 82%
Heart Disease 75 70
Heroin Abuse 74 72
Diabetes 74 68
Alcohol Abuse 67 52
Obesity 64 63
Abuse of Strong Prescription Painkillers 62 66
NOTE: Some items asked of half samples. Question wording abbreviated. See topline for full question wording.
SOURCE: National comparison of U.S. adults from Kaiser Health Tracking Poll (conducted November 15-21, 2016)

Who’s To Blame For Epidemic?

Majorities of people personally using prescription painkillers as well as people in their household say that people who use painkillers and doctors who prescribe them deserve at least some of the blame for the ongoing epidemic. In addition, two-thirds (65 percent) of opioid users’ household members say they blame drug companies and half (49 percent) say they blame the government. Ranking lower on the list for both groups are law enforcement and pharmacies and pharmacists.

Table 5: Views of Long-Term Users, Their Household Members, and the General Public on
Who Is to Blame for the Prescription Painkiller Addiction Epidemic
Percent who say each of the following deserve A LOT or SOME blame for the prescription painkiller addiction epidemic: Personally taking prescription painkillers long-term Household members of those using prescription painkillers long-term U.S. Adults
People who use painkillers 61% 65% 68%
Doctors who prescribe painkillers 54 66 69
Drug companies 47 65 60
The government 40 49 44
Hospitals 27 44 43
Law enforcement 17 14 28
Pharmacies and pharmacists 15 19 28
NOTE: Some items asked of half samples of the general public.
SOURCE: National comparison of U.S. adults from Kaiser Health Tracking Poll (conducted November 15-21, 2016)

Effective Strategies for Combatting the Epidemic

When asked what would be effective in reducing the abuse of prescription painkillers, eight in ten of those personally taking opioids say increasing pain management training for medical students and doctors (82 percent), increasing research about pain and pain management (81 percent), and increasing access to addiction treatment programs (80 percent). Large majorities also say encouraging people who were prescribed painkillers to dispose of any extras once they no longer medically needed them (73 percent), public education and awareness programs (72 percent), and monitoring doctors’ prescribing habits (69 percent) would be effective. Roughly half say reducing the social stigma around addiction (54 percent), putting warning labels about addiction on drug bottles (50 percent), and government limits on the amount of drugs that can be produced (47 percent). These responses are generally similar to what the public feels would be effective. The general public is somewhat more likely than those personally using to say the following would be effective: public education and awareness programs (86 percent vs. 72 percent), monitoring doctors’ prescription painkiller prescribing habits (83 percent vs. 69 percent), and increasing pain management training for medical students and doctors (89 percent vs. 82 percent).

Section 2: A Focus on Those Reporting They Are Physically Dependent or Addicted Methodology

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