One-third of Americans say physicians are mainly responsible for the widespread abuse of prescription painkillers that has led to an opioid addiction epidemic, according to a new poll.
Americans blame doctors almost as much as the drug users themselves for the epidemic that claimed nearly 20,000 U.S. lives last year alone, the poll released by STAT and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found. Thirty-seven percent of the people polled blamed the users of painkillers, while 34 percent hold doctors responsible for inappropriately prescribing the medications. The poll results follow on the heels of the release of strict new guidelines Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for primary care clinicians on the prescribing of opioid painkillers.
The poll of 1,011 adults via telephone interviews conducted in early March also found most Americans support treatment for those addicted to opioids rather than punishment. Many opioid abusers turn to heroin use after becoming addicted to painkillers legally prescribed by their doctors.
The government is now trying to curtail opioid painkiller prescriptions to help stop the addiction crisis. The poll found the majority of respondents support new prescribing guidelines, but 55 percent say they worry that it will become too difficult for patients who need pain medications for medical reasons to get them.
The poll was also an indicator of how widespread the addiction crisis has become. Forty-one percent of respondents said they know someone who has abused prescription drugs in the last five years and one in 12 Americans know someone who died from an overdose.
The poll also marked a change in attitude about what should happen to those who have become addicted to the drugs. Those responding to the poll want to see treatment for those caught in the addiction crisis, with 84 percent saying people caught with small amounts of painkillers without a prescription should be directed to treatment and only 8 percent recommending jail. The numbers were similar for those people caught with small quantities of heroin or crack cocaine.
Physicians, who for years were told they should ask about and treat patients' pain, have unintentionally driven the use of opioids. Research has shown most opioids are prescribed by family doctors and general practitioners, as FiercePracticeManagement previously reported.