burlingtoncountytimes.com - Survey: Most New Jerseyans not concerned about pain pills


By Kelly Kultys

The Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey released the results of a survey, which showed that over half of respondents were not concerned about the dangers of prescription pain medication.

Over 50 percent of New Jersey residents who took a recent survey said they were either “not very concerned” or “not concerned at all” about the potential dangers of prescription pain medication.

The study, released early last week by the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey, asked respondents to say how concerned they were about six potential causes of death or injury to either themselves or their family members: prescription pain medication, driving, commercial airline travel, severe weather/natural disaster, infectious disease and gun violence.

Over 70 percent of the respondents said they were “very concerned” or “somewhat concerned” about driving as a potential cause of death or injury, and over 60 percent said they were some level of concerned about gun violence causing death or injury. Commercial airline travel had the lowest level of concern, with about 40 percent.

“Drug overdose is currently the leading cause of accidental death in New Jersey, and the rate of heroin overdose in the state is three times the national average,” the study said. “The primary goal of this study is to assess remaining gaps in New Jerseyans’ knowledge, beliefs and attitudes regarding opioid addiction and to identify novel messaging strategies to address these gaps.”

The study, conducted by Itzhak Yanovitzky of the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University in collaboration with the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, surveyed 774 residents across the state ranging in age from 18 to over 55.

One of the main takeaways from the survey, according to Yanovitzky, was that the people surveyed tended to underestimate the number of lives lost to the opioid crisis, compared with guns and motor vehicle crashes. In 2016, 2,056 New Jersey residents died from a drug overdose, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — compared with 485 firearm-related deaths, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics, and 602 fatal accidents in the same year, according to fatal accident numbers from the New Jersey State Police.

“Thus, it appears that New Jersey residents underestimate the death toll of opioid and heroin addiction,” the study said.

Angelo Valente, executive director of the partnership, was concerned by the results.

“It is alarming that more than half of the respondents either are not aware of the potential tragic effects of prescription opioid misuse, or believe that they and their families are immune to those dangers,” Valente said in a statement. “While progress has been made in educating New Jersey residents about the links between prescription opioids and heroin use, there is still a long way to go for the levels of awareness and action to match the devastating consequences this epidemic is having on our state and nation.”

On Friday, Valente said a few positive things have come out of the survey: For example, more residents now do understand the problems of abusing prescription medication.

″(We) need to understand that as few as five, 10 years ago, if this study was asked, those numbers would be minuscule,” Valente said. “I think that’s a very positive sign as well.”

The survey results didn’t surprise Joseph Conlin, a coordinator for Prevention Plus of Burlington County, which educates students and adults about the dangers of alcohol and drugs.

“I think that the turnout for our town hall meeting and the King’s Crusade expo last May show us that there are many people who do not realize the dangers of opioids,” he said. “If the people in our county realized how addictive these drugs are and what they lead to, then maybe they would be more concerned.”

Conlin believes many of those surveyed did not personally know someone struggling with addiction.

“I bet if they called everyone who has had a loved one who was saved in the past year from Narcan — hundreds (in the county) or who lost a family member; over 100 just in Burlington County — they would get a much different response,” he said.

“This survey suggests that despite all of the attention on the opioid crisis, and the statistics demonstrating how many people addicted to heroin started out by taking prescription opioids, there remains a stubborn attitude of ‘this could never happen to me or my family,’ ” Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said in an email. “Well, it can, and all too often, it does. No one is more than one degree of separation from someone who is struggling with addiction or its effects, and we must continue to attack this epidemic on all fronts — through ubiquitous education, expanded treatment options and vigorous law enforcement.”

Linda Hughes, director of the Burlington County Board of Freeholders and chairwoman of the county’s addiction task force, chose to focus on some of the positive takeaways from the survey, including the fact that about half the people did have concerns about the dangers of prescriptions opioids.

“Nearly 50 percent do see the opioid problem is a concern,” Hughes said. “It shows we have a lot of room to do more.”

She cited working with local police departments to set up prescription drop boxes as one way the county has tried to address the prescription opioid issue. Hughes also said the task force has been working to address both the prevention side and the treatment side.

She has seen the impact that the epidemic has had on the county firsthand, as the support group the county established with Maryland-based Ashley Addiction Treatment for families of those battling addiction has grown dramatically.

“The demand has been so high that it has increased to once a week,” she said.

Valente said the partnership hopes to learn from the survey and use it to address gaps in understanding and education.

“The partnership continuously conducts research, because we think it’s important we understand where the lack of knowledge might exist,” he said.