JOINT RUTGERS-EAGLETON/FDU POLL: ONE IN FOUR HOUSEHOLDS HAVE A MEMBER WHO HAS TAKEN PRESCRIPTION PAIN RELIEVERS IN PAST YEAR, VIRTUALLY ALL RESIDENTS BELIEVE OPIOID USAGE IS A PROBLEM IN NEW JERSEY

Posted at 12:01 am July 17, 2019, in Opioids, Rutgers-Eagleton Poll

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New Brunswick and Madison, New Jersey (July 17, 2019) – Nearly a quarter of New Jerseyans (23 percent) say they or a family member have taken a prescription opioid painkiller in the past 12 months, according to a joint Rutgers-Eagleton/Fairleigh Dickinson University poll in collaboration with the Rutgers Center for State Health Policy.

Four percent of survey respondents – which represents more than 350,000 New Jerseyans – admit they or a family member misused prescription pain relievers during the past year, either by using them more frequently than prescribed (3 percent) or by using a pain reliever not prescribed to them by a healthcare provider (2 percent). One percent report both types of misuse.

Virtually all New Jerseyans believe use of prescribed and illegal opioid drugs is a “very” (67 percent) or “somewhat” (28 percent) serious problem in New Jersey. These numbers have changed little since Rutgers-Eagleton last polled about the severity of the epidemic in June 2018. Two percent say they or a family member have sought care for any kind of drug addiction in the past 12 months.

“Addressing opioid misuse and addiction is a defining public health challenge of our time,” said Joel C. Cantor, distinguished professor and director of the Rutgers University Center for State Health Policy. “The large number of adults using more opioids than prescribed, or using drugs not prescribed for them, raises serious challenges for doctors and other prescribers to assure proper use of these powerful medicines.”

A large majority also believes the use of opioid drugs is a serious problem in their own community. Three-quarters say opioid addiction is a serious problem in their community (34 percent “very,” 40 percent “somewhat”). Twenty percent say the problem is “not very serious” in their community, and 6 percent do not see it as a problem at all.

In this poll, 1,250 adults were contacted between March 7 and 22, 2019. Of those, 621 of were contacted by live callers on landlines and cell phones, and 629 were reached through an online probability-based panel. The combined sample has a margin of error of +/-3.6 percentage points; the phone sample has a margin of error of +/-4.5 percentage points, and the online probability-base sample has a margin of error of +/-5.5 percentage points. Interviews were done in English and, when requested, Spanish. The full analysis, along with the poll’s questions and tables, can be found on the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll website and the FDU Poll website.

Use, misuse of prescription pain killers

Age is a determining factor in the use of prescription pain relievers. Residents 65 or older are less likely to claim they or a member of their household have used painkillers in the past year: 19 percent of seniors, compared to 29 percent of 50 to 64 year-olds, 23 percent of 35 to 49 year-olds, and 22 percent of 18 to 34 year-olds.

Among those who have used painkillers themselves – or have a family member who has used them – in the past year, misuse is more common among residents under 60, those in households making less than $75,000 annually, and those without a college degree. Use of painkillers without a prescription is more prevalent among non-white residents and younger to middle-aged residents.

“This is not a new problem,” said Anastasia Rivkin, professor of pharmacy practice and assistant dean for faculty at Fairleigh Dickinson University School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. “Many regulatory systems have been put in place to address inappropriate opioid prescribing in recent years – some of which are the strictest in the U.S. While these efforts are certainly effective, community-level interventions, such as continuous health care provider and patient education efforts, are just as important to address this problem.”

Perceived seriousness of prescription drug problem

Nine in 10 of virtually every demographic believe prescription drug use is a “very” or “somewhat” serious problem in New Jersey, with more than half in every subgroup expressing the highest level of concern. Perceived severity is greater among some groups more than others, however. Women, white residents, middle-aged and older residents, and residents in New Jersey shore communities are all especially likely to believe prescription drugs are a “very serious” problem in the state.

When it comes to the severity of prescription drug use within one’s own community, seven in 10 of nearly every demographic believe it is a serious problem at some level, with three in ten in almost every subgroup saying it is “very” serious. Women, those in lower income brackets, those with less education, and residents in southern and shore counties are slightly more likely to believe the problem is “very” or “somewhat” serious in their community.

Variation between phone and online surveys

Whether the respondents conversed by phone with a live interviewer, or participated in an online survey, affected their answers to some survey questions.

Online respondents were less likely than telephone respondents to report being in “excellent” health (9 percent compared to 20 percent) when asked about their overall health state.

Among those respondents who have taken prescription pain killers – or have had a family member take them – in the past year, online respondents were more likely than phone respondents to admit to using prescription pain relievers more than prescribed (17 percent to 8 percent among users) or using ones not prescribed at all (14 percent to 8 percent among users).

“Online survey participants were much more likely to say they or a family member improperly used opioids compared to telephone respondents,” added Cantor. “This finding suggests that more people are putting themselves at risk of opioid misuse and addiction than telephone surveys suggest.”

“Survey respondents tend to be more reluctant to express certain attitudes and misreport certain behaviors when talking to a live interviewer if they feel their views and actions are problematic or socially unacceptable,” said Ashley Koning, assistant research professor and director of the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling (ECPIP) at Rutgers University–New Brunswick. “Respondents instead answer in a way that makes them appear more favorable. This is called ‘social desirability bias’ in survey research. Online surveys are a valuable tool for combatting these effects when it comes to asking about sensitive subjects and problematic behaviors.”

Phone respondents are more likely than online respondents to report that prescription drug usage is a “very” serious problem – 78 percent versus 56 percent when asked about New Jersey as a whole, and 40 percent versus 29 percent when asked specifically about their community.

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