More than half think painkillers a major problem, but not a national emergency: report



A little over half the country considers prescription painkiller addiction a major problem for the nation, but say it doesn't rise to the level of national emergency, a new report in the New England Journal of Medicine notes.

In late October, President Trump declared the epidemic a national public health emergency; declaring some type of national emergency was the “first and most urgent” recommendation from the president’s commission to address the opioid epidemic.

Advocates and Democrats have been pushing for more funding, saying federal dollars are needed to make the emergency declaration effective.

The journal article examined data from seven national polls from 2016 and 2017 to paint a portrait of how the public believes the opioid epidemic should be addressed.

“Many of the findings may surprise people who have been following this issue in professional journals and the media,” Robert Blendon and John Benson, from Harvard’s public health school, wrote in the article.

About 53 percent of respondents surveyed said addiction to prescription painkillers was a major problem in the U.S., but not a national emergency, while 28 percent believe the crisis is a national emergency, according to the report, which cites a Politico/Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health poll from November.

Most of the public — about 41 percent — see Trump’s proposed program on the opioid epidemic as about right, whereas 27 percent believe it does too little and 10 percent think it does too much, according to that same poll.

As lawmakers and the administration work to combat prescription drug abuse, the report points to a PBS NewsHour-Marist poll showing the public is divided over which level of government is responsible for combatting the crisis.

About 36 percent of survey respondents believe the federal government bears most of the responsibility for addressing the crisis, while 28 percent said it’s mostly the states’ job and 21 percent said it should mostly fall to local governments, according to the survey.

The article notes that a large portion of the public isn’t sure about the long-term effectiveness of treatment for addiction “at a time when public- and private-sector leaders are seeking a substantial increase in government funding for opioid-addiction treatment programs and legislation requiring insurers to offer coverage for these treatments.”

“Over the next few years, this impression could affect family referrals to treatment programs, as well as public support for them and for a government requirement that insurance cover their cost. There is a clear need for the medical and scientific communities to educate the public about the issues surrounding the potential effectiveness of treatment,” the authors wrote.