How to address opioid epidemic? The public is unsure.

The U.S. public is divided about the best way to address the opioid-abuse epidemic, according to recent polls.

Researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health—Robert Blendon, Richard L. Menschel Professor of Public Health and Professor of Health Policy and Political Analysis, and John Benson, senior research scientist in the Department of Health Policy and Management—examined data from seven national polls conducted in 2016 and 2017 to determine public opinion about the opioid epidemic. “Many of the findings may surprise people who have been following this issue in professional journals and the media,” they wrote in a January 3, 2017 article in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

For instance, the analysis showed:

  • Only 28% of the public think the opioid-abuse epidemic is a national emergency.
  • The public is divided over which level of government—federal, state, or local—bears most responsibility for fighting addiction to prescription pain medicine.
  • The public is divided as to whether insurance companies should be required to provide coverage for opioid-treatment programs.
  • Although national public figures are discussing major expansion of financial support for opioid-treatment programs, only about half of the public thinks there’s a treatment for prescription-painkiller addiction that’s effective long-term.

“There is a clear need for the medical and scientific communities to educate the public about the issues surrounding the potential effectiveness of treatment,” wrote the authors.

Read the NEJM article: The Public and the Opioid-Abuse Epidemic

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An opioid emergency (Harvard Chan School podcast)