According to research out of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, while more than one in four Americans has taken opioid pain relievers in the past year, most agree that the abuse of these medications is a serious public health problem and that policies should be put into place to curb opioid misuse and abuse. Findings from the study were published online in the journal Addiction.

Over 1,100 participants in the United States filled out a web-based survey asking them about their experiences with opioid pain relievers and what factors they believe contribute to the abuse problem and how it should be addressed. Among individual-orientated factors, lack of understanding of how easy it is to become addicted (80%), improper storage (65.1%), and improper disposal (64.1%) ranked highest as causes. Patients who abuse opioid prescriptions and their physicians were viewed as most responsible for solving the problem.

Researchers found broad support for several policy recommendations, including requiring pharmacies to verify patient identification before giving out prescription pain medication (84%), requiring medical school and physician residency programs to provide training for physicians in how to detect and treat addiction (83%), and requiring medical school and physician residency programs to train physicians to treat chronic pain (82%).

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Policies to expand distribution of medications such as naloxone (47%) and increasing government spending on addiction treatment (39%) were the least supported.

“This study shows that many Americans have had direct experience using prescription pain relievers and a sizable share have misused or abused these medications themselves or have close friends or family members who have done so,” says study leader Colleen L. Barry, PhD, MPP, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Bloomberg School. “The seriousness of the issue has become salient with the American public.”

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