Most Americans are blind to the opioid epidemic in their own backyards, a study by Laguna Treatment shows, despite predictions the crisis could claim more than half a million lives in the US by 2027.
Americans are three times more likely to be aware of a national drug epidemic than to recognize addiction in their own communities, according to a survey by Laguna treatment hospital in Aliso Viejo, California.
It found only 13% of those questioned from the southern US and 10% of those from the north-eastern US felt “drugs posed a crisis in their own communities”. However, north-eastern states like Vermont and Pennsylvania and southern states like West Virginia and Kentucky represent communities hardest hit by the opioid epidemic.
Dr Lawrence Tucker, who is medical director of Laguna treatment hospital and who established the first opioid dependence program in Virginia in 2006, said he was surprised by the findings “because the opioid epidemic is rampant, despite regional differences”.
He added: “You can see those differences in not just the prescriptions of opioids but the amount of heroin that is available – China White, for example, is prevalent along the east coast as is fentanyl. There is oxycodone in the midwest and Black Tar heroin on the west coast.”
Tucker splits his time between Laguna treatment hospital and the chemical dependency unit he established at Carrollton Springs psychiatric hospital in Carrollton Springs, Texas.
At Laguna, a drug and alcohol disorder treatment center, Tucker was directly involved with the recently published study, titled Perceptions of Addiction. It surveyed 999 Americans, 45% male and 55% female, from all across the US. Between the ages of 18 and 76, one-third of those surveyed self-identified as having had an addiction at some point in their lives.
The survey supports findings from a 2014 Pew Research study that revealed how few Americans were aware of the US’s growing opioid crisis. Four years later, the opioid crisis has officially been declared an epidemic and specialists, such as Tucker, wanted to find out if Americans’ awareness had changed.
“The survey’s verbiage attempted to achieve admittance of, versus just awareness of, addiction across the United States,” said Taylor Bloom, the survey’s project manager.
“We would ask questions using the word ‘perceive’ instead of ‘aware’. For example: ‘Do you perceive an addiction crisis in your community?’”
“We saw increased awareness among Hispanic and African American demographics,” said Bloom.
“But then we saw that Americans are 79% less likely to perceive an addiction crisis in their communities today as they were four years ago … which is kind of crazy.”
Tucker believes race plays a huge role. “Some races, particularly white young adults, are being hit harder than others,” said Tucker. “Which is why the neighborhoods that are affected the most are certainly aware of the epidemic, because they have lost loved ones and friends. But the communities that aren’t really aware of the opioid epidemic is because it’s just not affecting them as much due to the racial makeup of their neighborhoods.”
The number of overdoses doubled in high school students ages 15-19 between 1999 and 2015. Rural and suburban communities were and continue to be affected at the same rate as urban areas.
In July 2017, Dr Nicole Gastala attempted to explain why communities, ravaged by addiction, are seemingly unaware of the problem. Denial: The Greatest Barrier to the Opioid Epidemic is based on her experience as a new family physician facing the Iowa opioid epidemic. She found that a community’s resistance to change is often a factor in reluctance to realize the scale of the problem, a situation that perpetuates a cycle of addiction.
While profiling Gastala in June, the New York Times reported that more than 2 million people who are addicted to opioid painkillers, heroin and/or synthetic fentanyl will never get treatment.
Study and additional statistics here courtesy of: