The United States is in the midst of the deadliest drug overdose crisis in the nation’s history. More than 70,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2017. Nearly 48,000 of those deaths involved some type of opioid, a category that includes heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioid painkillers.
Experts say the overdose epidemic is rooted in a boom in opioid painkiller prescriptions that began more than 20 years ago, and which they say fostered addictions that later shifted into use of heroin and other drugs.
Americans are blaming drug companies, according to a new poll.
The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that about two-thirds of Americans believe drug companies are to blame for the opioid crisis, although nearly as many hold drug users themselves responsible
The poll showed many people also fault doctors who prescribed opioid pain pills and government officials who haven’t done enough to expand addiction treatment and arrest drug dealers.
The AP-NORC poll was conducted this month amid a legal storm: About 2,000 lawsuits have been filed in the past few years seeking to hold the drug industry responsible for the nation’s drug overdose crisis.
Dr. Daniel Ciccarone, a drug policy expert at the University of California at San Francisco, noted that the survey doesn’t explain why people are turning to drugs and alcohol. He said people seem to be “self-medicating” as they struggle with depression, lack of money or other issues.
Carmen Amato, a 52-year-old retired teacher from Frankfort, Kentucky, echoed that.
“People can’t make a living in some parts of our state and don’t seem to have any other prospects besides using drugs,” Amato said. “It’s terrible.”
The poll also detected a partisan divide.
Democrats are more likely than Republicans to blame pharmaceutical companies (72 percent to 53 percent) than the government (42 percent to 26 percent). Republicans were more likely than Democrats to blame users (69 percent to 51 percent).
According to the poll, 63 percent of Americans think pharmaceutical companies are quite a bit or a great deal to blame for the problem of opioid addiction, while 58 percent say the same about people abusing opioids. Slightly less than half — 46 percent — think doctors and dentists are significantly to blame, and about a third — 34 percent — say that about the government.
The poll shows 35 percent say they or someone close to them has been addicted to prescription painkillers or heroin.
White Americans were more likely than black Americans to say they’ve known someone who was addicted, 39 percent to 20 percent. Americans under 30 were more likely than older people to say they’ve known someone who was addicted, 44 percent to 32 percent.
People who have personally been close to someone addicted to opioids were more likely than others to blame pharmaceutical companies, 70 percent to 59 percent. They were also somewhat more likely to blame doctors and dentists (52 percent to 43) and the government (41 percent to 31 percent), but not significantly more or less likely to blame opioid users themselves.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.