Doctors wrote 259 million opioid prescriptions for Americans in 2012, enough to medicate every adult in the country. Drug overdoses are eclipsing car crashes as a leading cause of accidental death for American adults.
A poll out today from the Kaiser Family Foundation adds a troubling new number to the accounting: 27 percent of Americans report that they either have been addicted to prescription painkillers or have a family member or close friend who has.
That's roughly 66 million U.S. adults for whom the opioid crisis has become intensely personal.
The Kaiser Foundation interviewed 1,352 respondents from a national sample by phone. The poll has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
More than half reported some connection to the epidemic—knowing anyone who ever misused painkillers, was addicted, or died from an overdose. If you don't have some kind of personal connection to painkiller abuse, you're in the minority.
The demographics of those touched by the crisis skew white, higher-income, college-educated, younger, and male.
Sixteen percent say they know someone who died, more than half of them a family member or close friend.
Prescription drug addiction and a related heroin epidemic have proven a stubborn public health crisis since painkiller abuse began rising more than a decade ago. From the White House to local precinct houses, government officials have been struggling to figure out how to reverse the trend. Kaiser's poll found strong majorities in support of policy solutions, including drug treatment, tighter scrutiny of prescribers, and "good samaritan" laws that protect drug users from being charged if they call for help when addicts overdose.