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Opioid Painkillers: National Survey Finds Nearly Half of Public Unaware Prescription Painkiller Abuse is as Harmful as Using Heroin

- Nearly 40% of Americans know someone who abuses painkillers

RICHMOND, Va., Feb. 1 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, results of a major new national survey of more than 1,500 people provide the first in-depth look at how Americans view opioid addiction -- addiction to heroin or prescription opioid painkillers -- and its treatments. Prescription Painkiller/Heroin Addiction and Treatment reveals roughly half (46%) of the respondents do not understand that prescription opioid painkiller abuse is as harmful as heroin abuse in terms of how it affects the body. The significance of the public's misunderstanding of this danger is underlined by another major survey finding -- nearly 4 in 10 Americans (37%) surveyed know someone personally who has abused opioid painkillers. Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals Inc. sponsored the survey, conducted by Schulman, Ronca, & Bucuvalas, Inc.

Although abuse of prescription opioid painkillers is beginning to be recognized as a significant aspect of drug abuse in America, to date there are no available data on what the public understands about the disease of opioid dependence (i.e., addiction) and its treatment.

"By illustrating what the American public thinks about opioid addiction and its treatment, this survey does a great service to policymakers and healthcare professionals who seek to educate consumers and bring patients into treatment," said Edwin A. Salsitz, MD, of Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, and a practicing clinician on addiction and treatment for opioid dependence. "The public is just beginning to understand opioid dependence as a disease. We need to educate consumers about all treatment options, including office-based medical therapy which allows opioid dependence to be treated with the same privacy and discretion that's given to other chronic diseases like diabetes or high blood pressure."

Recent government reports show that nearly 4.4 million Americans abuse prescription painkillers and that opioid painkillers are the fastest growing drug of abuse among teenagers.* This new survey underscores the urgency of educating the public that, as a substance of abuse, prescription opioid painkillers are equivalent to heroin. Even though opioid painkillers such as oxycodone or morphine are appropriately prescribed to treat pain, their abuse affects the brain in the same way, and to the same extent, as heroin.

  Other significant survey findings include:

   -- Of those surveyed who know someone abusing opioid painkillers, more
      than 20% report that the abuser is a co-worker.

   -- More than half (54%) of those surveyed don't know that opioid
      addiction is a medical disease, but two-thirds (66%) agree that
      genetic factors contribute to drug addiction.

   -- Survey respondents are most familiar with 12-step, abstinence, and
      hospital-based treatment programs; only 4% volunteered that medical
      treatment for opioid addiction is available in doctors' offices.

   -- Over three-quarters (76%) of the population surveyed want access to
      addiction treatment to be made as easy as possible, and 71% agree that
      opioid-addicted people should be able to receive treatment in a
      doctor's private office. Although 71% favor in-office treatment, only
      55% are comfortable with their own doctor offering such treatment.

   -- The public has different racial and demographic stereotypes for people
      addicted to opioid painkillers compared to those addicted to heroin.

This survey reveals only a basic understanding among respondents of opioid dependence treatment options and virtually no awareness of treating this chronic brain disease in the privacy of a doctor's office.

Patient Attitudes About Opioid Addiction and Treatment

In a related survey, a separate cohort of 57 patients receiving medication for opioid dependence was questioned. Highlights of their responses include:

   -- The sociodemographic make-up of the patient cohort includes a
      plurality (57%) who are employed and another 18% who are either
      homemakers, students, or retired.

   -- Of the patients surveyed, almost all (96%) abused opioid painkillers,
      65 % abused heroin, and 61% abused both.

   -- A small percentage of patients surveyed (16%) think people can stop
      using opioids if they want to.

   -- Most patients surveyed (91%) say "cold turkey" is not effective in
      treating opioid addiction.

  Upcoming U.S. Senate Symposium

To address key issues related to the medical treatment of heroin and opioid painkiller dependence, Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Orrin Hatch (R-UT) will sponsor a Senate Symposium highlighting the success of office-based treatment for opioid dependence using buprenorphine. The date of the Symposium is still to be confirmed.

"The millions of Americans who suffer from opioid dependence deserve access to all available medical treatments," said Senator Carl Levin. "As more physicians become certified to prescribe buprenorphine to treat this devastating disease in their offices rather than a centralized clinic, those afflicted with opioid addiction all across the country will benefit equally from this revolutionary treatment option."

"Just as depression came out of the closet when it was recognized as a treatable brain disease, so should opioid dependence," said Senator Orrin Hatch. "The results we will present at the Senate Symposium underscore the findings of this national attitudinal survey. Clearly, education is the key to increasing awareness and opening up sufficient in-office medical treatment opportunities to help opioid-dependent people manage their disease discreetly and effectively."

About the Survey

The target population for Prescription Painkiller/Heroin Addiction and Treatment is a national sample of 1,503, aged 18 years and older, living in a non-institutionalized setting in the United States. SRBI researchers contacted US households by random digit dialing (RDD) among a geographically stratified sample of telephone banks with working residential telephone numbers. Within households with more than one adult, the designated respondent was selected by the most recent/next birthday. The survey results of the total national sample have a maximum expected margin of error of +/- 2.5 % at the 95% level of confidence. As part of Prescription Painkiller/Heroin Addiction and Treatment, a separate, parallel survey of 57 people being treated with Suboxone(R) (buprenorphine HCl/naloxone HCl dihydrate) C-III Sublingual Tablets for opioid dependence was conducted. Responses of the 57 interviewed patients provide information about their opinions and experiences as persons under treatment for opioid dependence.

Copies of Prescription Painkiller/Heroin Addiction and Treatment are available to download from http://www.srbi.com/national_survey_on_painkillers.html.