Why It Matters: Opioid addiction affects every part of American society.
Addiction cuts across class, race and geography, KFF researchers found. Rural and white Americans were the most likely to report personal or family opioid addiction, but significant percentages of Black, Hispanic, urban and suburban families did as well.
White families were more likely than Black or Hispanic families to say they had received treatment. The overdose fatality rate among Black Americans has increased significantly in recent years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found in the studying last year.
Low household income also appears to influence the experience of addiction, KFF found. A higher percentage of households earning less than $40,000 annually report possible prescription painkiller, illegal drug and alcohol addiction, compared to households with higher incomes .
Addiction also weighs on families’ minds, the study found. A third of Americans fear someone in their family will die of an opioid overdose, researchers found. About four in 10 adults say they worry that a family member will accidentally ingest fentanyl, a powerful and deadly synthetic opioid that is often mixed with other drugs or counterfeit pills and can cannot be determined.
Background: Recent efforts to make treatment more accessible have had limited success.
In December, Congress repealed a special licensing requirement for health providers willing to prescribe buprenorphine, a drug that reduces cravings and prevents withdrawal, expanding the number of areas where treatment can be sought to drug users. But this year researchers found that less stringent training requirements for health workers did not lead to more drug prescribing.
Federal researchers this month found that in 2021, only about 20 percent of the approximately 2.5 million people with opioid use disorder received drug treatment, a problem that particularly affects Black adults, women and the unemployed.
The reasons can be cultural and financial. KFF researchers published several anonymous responses from survey participants who were asked why they or a family member had not received treatment. “We weren’t raised that way,” said a 22-year-old Black woman in Georgia.
“Lack of funds, no insurance coverage – turned away for treatment,” said a 50-year-old white woman in South Carolina.
More than 80 percent of respondents said naloxone, a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses, should be readily available in places like bars and fire stations.
what next: Getting treatment in more medical practices.
Dr. David Fiellin, an addiction physician at the Yale School of Medicine, said the survey showed the need for a stronger federal response to substance use disorders, similar to the one for AIDS. Primary care skills are increasingly critical to treating Americans, he said.
“There’s often a misunderstanding of what treatment actually looks like and what it is — people often look at a quick fix,” he says, referring to a detox approach. “Effective treatment tends to be longer and requires addressing the rejection that may be part of the condition.”
President Biden this month requested $350 million from Congress to fund addiction treatment and other drug-related services nationwide. The Biden administration and federal lawmakers also continue to look for ways to loosen treatment restrictions.
Methadone, another opioid addiction drug that relieves cravings, is highly regulated and often difficult for drug users to access and use consistently, prompting repeated calls from addiction doctors and public health experts for easing restrictions.