Prescription Drug Abuse Increasingly Seen as a Major US Public Health Problem

The headline above is from a PEW Research Center article published on November 15, 2017. According to Wikipedia, “The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan American think tank based in Washington, D.C. It provides information on social issues, public opinion, and demographic trends shaping the United States and the world.”

Lately, there has been more stories on the issue of prescription drug abuse. Although most of the focus has been on opioid abuse, there have been a number of stories about the overuse of prescription drugs in general. The abundance of stories, coupled with recent Washington proclamations and mandates, have made the public more aware of this issue. However, though the public begins to recognize the increasing importance of this issue, the numbers of fatalities and cost of the crisis continues to grow.

The press release from the PEW on this issue begins by noting, “Americans’ concerns about prescription drug abuse have risen over the past four years, with some of largest increases coming among well-educated adults.” The PEW research points out that currently, 76% of the public see prescription drug abuse is an extremely or very serious public health problem.

This number is a significant increase from just a few years ago. In 2013, only 63% considered prescription drug abuse to be as serious as they do today. The study notes that the largest gains in awareness have come from those who have a higher education level, but equally for Democrats and Republicans considering political breakdowns.

The perspective of Americans concerning other health issues has remained fairly consistent from 2013 to today. Similar now to 2013, about 80% of Americans see cancer as a serious health issue. Additionally, the numbers remain steady with other issues such as obesity, where 71% see this as a serious health concern, as do 52% of the population with respect to alcohol and 51% for smoking.

Interestingly, the PEW survey did note that there were differences in the views on this issue based upon race. According to the study, 79% of whites saw prescription drug use as a serious concern, but only 73% of non-whites felt the same way. The difference was more pronounced for other health issues, where 66% of non-white Americans felt smoking was an extremely serious or very serious health issue compared to only 42% of whites who viewed smoking the same way.

Even though there is an increased awareness of this issue, the problem continues to grow. The CDC lists on their website that since 1999, the number of drug death has quadrupled. Between the years 2000 and 2015, more than half a million people have died from drug overdoses. Opioids account for the largest portion of these deaths with approximately 91 Americans dying every day from an opioid.

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