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Poll: Most Americans View Addiction As Disease, But Stigmatising Views Persist

A new survey revealed that about 32% of participants view opioid addiction as a character flaw.

Despite nationwide efforts to destigmatize drug use disorders, a new survey has found that some Americans remain skeptical of those struggling with dependency.

The survey, conducted by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, found that while a majority of Americans do recognize prescription drug addiction as a disease, some would not welcome those suffering into their environment.

Of the 1,054 Americans surveyed, 53% viewed prescription drug dependency as a medical issue.

However, less than 20% of those surveyed would be “willing to associate closely with someone who is addicted to prescription drugs as a friend, colleague, or neighbor.”

Emily Fleischer, a 36-year-old librarian in Indiana, tells the Associated Press that she has seen issues caused by the opioid epidemic in her state. These issues, she says, include a one-year increase in children who are placed in the foster care system because of problems with drugs at home. For her, it makes sense why people may not want to closely associated with those struggling.

“I can see why people wouldn’t want that to be up close and personal, even if they do feel it is a disease and not the person’s fault,” Fleischer told the Associated Press.

However, this view can present issues. Medical experts tell the Associated Press that destigmatizing substance use disorders is vital in order to expand treatment options.

While about 2.1 million Americans struggle with opioid use, only 1 in 5 received “specialized treatment.”

“When something is stigmatized nobody wants to bring it up, so therefore people who need the help are less willing to come forward,” Dr. Corey Waller, an addiction specialist in New Jersey, told the Associated Press.

Of those who participated in the survey, 44% agreed that being dependent on opioids implied a person had a “lack of willpower or discipline,” and about 32% perceive it as a character flaw. More than 50% were in support of a “crackdown” on people who misuse drugs such as opioids.

A majority of those who participated in the survey did not believe their own communities were doing well with addressing the issue and about 66% think treatment needs to be more “affordable and accessible.”

Last month, President Donald Trump gave the the federal government permission to spend $4.6 billion on recovery efforts for the opioid epidemic. This is about triple what is currently being put toward efforts.

This survey was conducted March 14-19 and included 1,054 adults from a sample taken from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research’s “probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel.” This is meant to be a representative of the U.S. population. Participants were chosen randomly and interviewed online or by phone.

By Beth Leipholtz 04/10/18

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