Poll: We blame docs and patients alike for opioid crisis, and prefer treatment to jail

Americans place the blame for the opiate epidemic on providers nearly as much as they do on those with substance use disorders, according to an eye-opening poll released recently by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and STAT, which is produced by Boston Globe Media.

The survey also found that people are more supportive of treatment, not punishment, for people with addiction.

Stock photo

Stock photo

The poll consisted of telephone interviews of 1,011 adults from March 3-6. The margin of error is ±3.7 percentage points.

The poll found that the public was split about who is mainly responsible for the epidemic that is killing nearly 16,000 Americans a year: Thirty-seven percent percent blamed the users of strong painkillers, while 34 percent said doctors were responsible by inappropriately prescribing the medications.


(From the STAT Harvard Opioid poll)

Just 10 percent thought pharmaceutical companies were responsible, while 7 percent perceived the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as to blame.

Here are some additional findings:

— Incarceration vs. treatment:

When asked about prescription painkillers, heroin and crack cocaine, nearly three-fourths of all surveyed adults in the U.S. say they support treatment programs without jail time.

— Government funding for addiction treatment:

The poll asked adults in the U.S. for their views on government funding for addiction treatment programs. Results indicate that a plurality (41%) of adults in the U.S. believe the amount of money the government currently spends on treatment programs for people addicted to prescription painkillers or heroin is too low, while nearly three in ten (28%) believe it’s about right. On the other hand, one in seven (14%) believe the government’s current funding levels are too high.

Personal experience:

The problem of prescription painkiller abuse hits close to home for more than two in five Americans. Forty-one percent of adults in the U.S. say they personally know someone who has abused prescription painkillers in the past five years ─ almost the same proportion (39%) as a similar poll by the Boston Globe in May 2015.2 Furthermore, of those who say they know someone who has abused prescription painkillers, one in five (20%) say it led to the user’s death.