Thanks to the results of the recent Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, we can now add another shared experience among Americans: more than half of us (56%) know someone connected to prescription drug misuse or abuse. 45% of us know someone who has taken a prescription drug not prescribed to them. 39% of us know someone who has been addicted to prescription drugs. 16% of us know someone who has died from an overdose of prescription painkillers. (56% of those polled answered "yes" to at least one of these questions).
Interestingly, the poll reveals a demographic and socioeconomic trend around those who answered "yes" to at least one of the questions (know someone who took a drug not prescribed, know someone who has been addicted, or know someone who has died of an overdose). The top 8 groups, by percentage of those polled answering "yes" at least once:
- 63% of whites
- 63% of those making more than $90k per year
- 62% of those aged 18-29
- 61% of those aged 30-49
- 61% of those having "some" college education
- 59% of those with a college degree
- 59% with residency in a suburban area
- 59% of males
That paints a picture of the prescription drug misuse and abuse epidemic.
And yet, when asked to prioritize public policy goals, reducing drug abuse comes in 6th:
- Public education
- Affordable/available healthcare
- Reducing crime
- Attracting and retaining businesses and jobs
- Protecting the environment
- Reducing drug abuse
- Reforming the criminal justice system
In studying this list... I wonder if we can't make a significant impact on #6 by tackling #2, #3, and #7. What if we thought differently about mental healthcare? What if we thought differently about addiction? What if we didn't treat addicts like criminals? It's possible - and the regulatory and private enterprise infrastructure to make that happen is actually developing all around us.
There is hope.
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