Poll finds rise in Ky. adults who misuse prescription drugs, but experts say that likely stems from more awareness, not more use

A new poll shows an uptick in the number of Kentucky adults who report knowing someone who misuses prescription drugs, but experts say that’s likely the result of an increase in knowledge about what addiction is — and a decrease in stigma about it, Terry DeMio reports for the Cincinnati Enquirer.

The Kentucky Health Issues Poll found that the number of adults in the state who said they know someone who has experienced problems as a result of abusing prescription drugs jumped to 38 percent in 2019, up from 30% in 2018 and 24% in 2017.

That’s likely a result of Kentuckians knowing more about addiction, not because of an increase in it, leaders in the fight against the opioid epidemic told DeMio.

In the poll results, “We can’t separate an increase in knowledge versus an increase in use,” Colleen Desmond, research associate with Interact for Health, told DeMio.

The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky sponsors the poll with Interact for Health, a Cincinnati-area foundation. Interact’s poll in Ohio found 33 percent of people in that state said they knew someone with problems from abusing prescription drugs, a number that has remained steady for several years.

The Kentucky poll found that 22% of adults in the state said they knew someone who has a problem with methamphetamine, and 20% knew someone who had a problem with heroin. Both of these rates changed little from last year’s poll.

“Every factor” related to prescription opioid painkillers, such as hospitalizations and emergency-room visits related to overdoses, shows a downward trend, Van Ingram, director of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, told DeMio.

A national-level expert agreed. “More people could be responding that they know someone with substance use disorder related to prescription pain medication because as a society, we are now more aware than ever of addiction,” Robyn Oster, research associate with the Center on Addiction of New York City, told DeMio. She added that sigma about addiction has also decreased, which could lead to greater disclosure.

At 66%, a clear majority of Kentucky adults believe that addiction is a disease, the poll found. Among those people, 82% believe it is both a psychological and a physical disease; 14% believe it is a psychological disease only; and 4% believe it is only a physical disease.

When asked whether they would know how to help someone with an addiction disorder find treatment, 56% said they would.

“It’s gratifying that Kentucky’s efforts appear to be significantly reducing overdose deaths, which were down 15 percent in 2018 over the year before, but this poll tells us we’re still in the midst of an addiction crisis,” Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the foundation, said in a news release.

“Expanding and getting the word out about treatment options, recognizing that recovery is a long-term process, and reducing the stigma associated with addiction, remain critical to continued progress.”

For information on how to access addiction treatment in Kentucky, call 1-833-8KY-HELP (1-833-859-4357) or go to FindHelpNowKY.org. Both options will connect you to a specialist who will conduct a brief screening assessment and connect you to the most appropriate treatment services.

The poll surveyed a random sample of 1,559 Kentucky adults via landlines and cell phones from Oct. 16 through Dec. 6.. The margin of error for each number in the overall results is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points.

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