Poll: Most Americans Understand the Dangers of Opioids, Won’t Stop Taking Them

Although much of the American population is now aware of the dangers associated with taking opioid medications, a new report indicates that high rates of addiction and thousands of overdose deaths every year still hasn’t deterred the public from using these drugs.

According to a new NPR-Truven Health Analytics poll, nearly 60 percent of the people in the United States have been prescribed a narcotic painkiller at some point in their lives—more than what the poll has uncovered over the past five years.

The majority of people (74 percent) rely on painkillers temporarily to get through injuries or dental procedures, the survey finds. However, around 20 percent of the respondents said they took these drugs to help with chronic pain. Researchers say that these are the people who are at the greatest risk of succumbing to the perils of over-using opioid medications.

“The drugs are like a two-edged sword,” pollster Ron Ozminkowski told NPR. “They’re great for people who really need them for heavy duty pain, but they come with addiction risk and side effects.”

It seems strange that even though people are starting to understand the risks involved with prescription painkillers, that is as far as it goes—they are still popping pills and simply hoping for the best.

The survey finds that despite horror stories of addiction and death stemming from the rampant use of opioids, only around 29 percent of the respondents admitted to questioning or refusing a doctor’s recommendation for this kind of treatment.

Patients just want to trust the judgment of their physicians on this matter, which is the problem, some health experts say.

“Often, other alternatives like not anything at all, taking an ibuprofen or Tylenol, physical therapy, or something else can be effective,” Dr. Leana Wen, health commissioner for the City of Baltimore, told NPR. “Asking ‘why’ is something every patient and provider should do.”

There are presently around two million people in the United States addicted to opioids, which is sending more than 1,000 of these folks a day to the emergency room because of an overdose situation. The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that nearly 80 people die each day as a result of an opioid overdose—over half of these incidents can be attributed to the abuse of prescription painkillers.

Sadly the survey did not ask respondents whether they felt marijuana could be used as an alternative to opioids.

Yet in a matter of weeks, the NFL Players Association plans to introduce a proposal to the union board of player representatives, begging the league to allow players to use medical marijuana for this very reason. A report from NBC Sports suggests that if the NFLPA can show the league that medical marijuana is a legitimate pain management tool, the NFL may be forced to change its drug policy.

Last year, ESPN found that nearly 50 percent of the players in the NFL are using narcotic painkillers on a daily basis. Interestingly, 71 percent of these guys said they believe marijuana should be legalized nationwide.

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