(BPT) - Despite the growing population of individuals with opioid dependence and significant media coverage about this U.S. epidemic, a new national survey reveals both U.S. adults and primary care doctors harbor a variety of misperceptions that may impact the way opioid dependence – and those living with it – are treated. The survey, which involved more than 1,000 adults ages 26-49 (“adults”)† and 200 non-Drug Addiction Treatment Act (DATA) 2000 certified primary care doctors (“doctors”)*, was conducted online by Harris Interactive and commissioned by Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals Inc. to understand U.S. attitudes about opioid dependence – also known as prescription painkiller and heroin addiction – and its treatment.
Opioid Dependence Misunderstood as a Disease
Nearly half of adults (47%) reported a personal connection with addiction and almost one-in-eight (12%) personally struggled with addiction – more than diabetes (7%) or cancer (3%). Two-thirds of adults (68%) and nearly nine-in-ten doctors (87%) agree opioid dependence affects millions of Americans. While nearly nine-in-ten doctors (88%) recognize addiction as a disease, only about three-in-five adults (59%) agree. Further, over two-thirds (68%) of adults and eight-in-ten doctors (80%) say opioid dependence represents a mental health problem, and nearly half of adults (45%) and almost one-third of doctors (30%) believe it is a psychological problem (e.g., lifestyle choice) rather than a physical illness (e.g., chronic disease).
Public, Doctors Perpetuating Disease Stigma
Over three-fourths (77%) of adults and most doctors (93%) mention shame or embarrassment, fear others will find out or fear of putting life on hold as reasons why those suffering from drug addiction would refrain from seeking treatment. But these barriers can be broken with greater understanding of the disease’s nature. While nine-in-ten adults (91%) and doctors (92%) agree opioid dependence can happen to anyone, doctors feel a low level of education (66%) and low income (57%), among other factors, could cause someone to be more likely to experience the disease. Yet opioid dependence affects individuals of all ages, genders, races and socioeconomic status.[i]
Relapse is Accepted as Inevitable
Two-thirds of adults (67%) and doctors (65%) believe opioid dependence can be cured, and most adults (92%) and doctors (98%) say it is treatable. Yet only about one-third of adults (35%) and nearly one-quarter of doctors (21%) agree a stay at a rehabilitation clinic is very effective, and more than half of adults (56%) and over two-thirds of doctors (69%) believe most people with opioid dependence will relapse.
Nearly three-quarters of adults (71%) and an even greater proportion of doctors (85%) believe people with opioid dependence do not seek help because they believe they can stop on their own. However, the majority of adults (83%) and doctors (92%) agree people recovering from opioid dependence need a long-term combination of medication and behavioral changes to be successful with treatment. Nearly three-in-five adults (58%) and even more doctors (73%) strongly support use of prescription medication to treat opioid dependence. Yet only four-in-ten adults (44%) are aware that obtaining prescription medication from a doctor is a treatment option for opioid dependence.
Education is critical, as a staggering two-thirds of adults (67%) and more than one-third of doctors (35%) still feel they don’t know much about opioid dependence. Nearly half (44%) of adults and most doctors (92%) associate prescription painkillers with opioid dependence, whereas over half of adults (55%) and over two-in-three doctors (69%) associate heroin with the disease. For many adults (75%) “dependence” is synonymous with “addiction,” while for more than half of doctors (57%) it is not.
Often stigmatized as bad behavior, poor judgement and weak morals on the part of the patient, opioid dependence is a chronic, relapsing disease caused in part by pervasive changes in the brain’s chemistry that can result from regular use of opioids, such as oxycodone, morphine and heroin. These long-lasting changes can interfere with normal brain functioning, fooling the brain into thinking the opioid is necessary for survival, and resulting in drug-seeking behavior and dependency. As with other chronic diseases, opioid dependence can be successfully treated, but not cured, with a combination of medication and behavioral changes.
The general public can learn more about opioid dependence, obtain tools to help manage doctor visit conversations, and “find a doctor” in the local area who understands how to treat opioid dependence in a private setting by visiting www.turntohelp.com.
[i] Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. September 23, 2010.
http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/2k10/230b/230bPainRelvr2k10Web.pdf. Accessed June 4, 2013.