About one in three in North Carolina say they have been personally impacted by the opioid addiction crisis or they have someone close to them who has been, the most recent Elon University Poll has found. The survey found that the crisis has touched 31 percent of respondents or their friends and family members, while 67 percent said they had not been impacted.
Those results were part of a broader package of questions examining how opioid addiction, which communities across the country are increasingly grappling with, is being viewed by voters in North Carolina. Asked about the amount of attention the use of opioids — which include prescription drugs as well as street drugs such as heroin — is receiving, 45 percent said it’s receiving too little, 39 percent said it’s receiving the right amount of attention and 11 percent said too much.
“Our data clearly show that North Carolina voters see opioid abuse as a significant issue worthy of attention,” said Jason Husser, director of the Elon Poll and assistant professor of political science.
Asked which is the larger problem — prescription drugs used improperly or the use of street drugs like heroin — close to 60 percent pointed to the abuse of prescription medications compared to illegal opioids, the poll found.
The poll also delved into how communities are responding to the crisis, asking whether sufficient resources are available to address opioid addiction. Among respondents, 42.5 percent said their communities do not have the resources they need to respond to the opioid crisis while 28.5 percent said their communities did. As for how the opioid crisis should be addressed, more than half — 56 percent — said that the illegal use of prescriptions drugs should be dealt with by doctors through the medical system while 21 percent said prosecutors in the criminal justice system should be the main way to address the issue.
The live-caller, dual-frame (landline and cell phone) survey of 771 registered voters in North Carolina was conducted Nov. 6-9, 2017. Survey results in this news release have a margin of error +/-3.5 percent.
Looking deeper into the reported impact the opioid crisis is having on North Carolina, younger residents were more likely to say that they and those close to them have been touched by the issue. Among Millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 36), the poll found that 43 percent have been personally impacted, compared to 18 percent of residents 73 years old or older.
Additionally, the poll found a racial split, with white residents more than twice as likely to report being personally touched by the crisis than black residents (36 vs. 17 percent). Suburban residents were more likely to report an impact (38 percent) than rural (31 percent) or urban (28 percent) residents.
Many of those same demographic variations exist when it comes to opinions about how much public attention opioid use is receiving. More than half of Millennials (53 percent) said the issue is receiving too little attention compared to just 41 percent of those 73 and older. Whites were more likely to say the issue receives too little attention (46 percent) than blacks (39 percent).
Similarly, and likely linked to responses about personal impact, suburban residents were the most likely group to say that the issue is receiving too little attention, with 51 percent holding that view compared to 45 percent of rural residents and 41 percent of urban residents. Suburban residents were also the most likely to say they’ve been personally impacted by the issue.
“The groups most likely to say they have been personally impacted by opioid addiction are whites, men, Millennials, and those from suburban counties,” Husser said. “This largely tracks overdose statistics in North Carolina and in the nation as a whole.”
When it comes to perceptions about whether communities have the resources to address the opioid crisis, blacks were more likely than whites to say there are enough resources (34 percent vs. 26 percent).
Looking at age, Baby Boomers were the most likely to say that there were not enough resources in their communities (48 percent) compared to their older counterparts (32 percent). Additionally, those 73 years old or older were the most likely to say they didn’t know whether their communities have adequate resources. Forty-two percent of that older population responded “don’t know” to the question, compared to 28 percent of all respondents.
Pills vs. Heroin
Delving into how N.C. residents perceive the core problem of the opioid crisis, age and gender seem to provide the largest variation in responses. Younger residents — Millennials and Generation X (those 37 to 52) — were more likely to say the abuse of prescription pain pills rather than street drugs like heroin. Additionally, men were more likely than women to say the abuse of prescription pain pills is the larger problem (65 vs. 55 percent).
Hospitals vs. Jails
Political party affiliation produced little variation in the responses across many of the questions related to the opioid crisis in this survey, but not when it comes to opinions about the best way to address the issue — the criminal justice system vs. the health care system.
Overall, 56 percent of respondents said the health care system is the best way to deal with the problem, with 61 percent of Democrats and 57 percent of independents holding that view compared to 48 percent of Republicans. As for favoring the criminal justice system, 31 percent of Republicans held that view compared to 18 percent of Democrats and 18 percent of independents. Overall, 21 percent favored the criminal justice system.
Turning to age, those 73 years old or older were the most likely to favor the health care system as the route to addressing the problem, with 63 percent holding that view. Members of Generation X were the most likely to favor the criminal justice system, with 25 percent preferring that approach.