Opioid abuse is seen as a national problem

August 21, 2017, 3:30 PM GMT+0

And an emergency to those who are personally affected

Is the opioid epidemic a national emergency? Just 38% of adults in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll think it is, but half call it a serious problem in their own community, and even more see it as a serious national concern.

And it is a national, bipartisan problem, though for many it may not be personal. Unlike so many polling questions, the assessment of the seriousness of the opioid epidemic crosses regional, racial and political boundaries. One in four Americans – 27% – personally know someone who has a problem with opioid abuse. Republicans and Democrats are equally likely to know someone with a problem, and there is little difference by income, gender, region or age, although those between 30 and 44 years old are slightly more likely to report knowing someone with a problem. 27% overall know someone; 34% of those in the 30-44 year old age group do.

But calling it an emergency is another matter, and one where personal experience matters. More say it is a national emergency than disagree, but a third aren’t sure. For those who personally know someone who abuses opioid drugs, three times as many believe it is a national emergency than don’t.

Those with knowledge of someone with a problem also are twice as likely as the public overall to be paying a lot of attention to the opioid crisis.

Americans find plenty of blame to go around. More than half blame drug dealers who sell opioid products “a lot,” but nearly half put that same amount of blame on the doctors who overprescribe painkillers. Many also blame the pharmaceutical industry and those without prescriptions who seek to get drugs. Fewer put a lot of blame on the patients demanding prescriptions.

Those who know someone with a problem are more likely to attribute a lot of blame to all these groups. Republicans blame drug dealers, those without prescriptions, and patients themselves more than Democrats do.

But a law enforcement strategy to combat the opioid epidemic isn’t popular – except with Republicans. This is the strategy President Trump has proposed. But by five to three, Americans prefer providing treatment for those who use illegal drugs over prosecution of those abusing opioids. Those who know someone who abuses opioids favor treatment over law enforcement two to one.