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KFF: Most Americans Touched by Substance Use

The United States experienced a concerning rise in overdose deaths during 2022. The latest KFF Health Tracking Poll records the public’s personal experiences with alcohol and drug addiction. While most American adults reported being touched by substance use, a much smaller percentage report receiving or knowing someone who has received treatment. This highlights the need for more accessible treatment options in our communities. 

Across the nation, people are feeling the impact of the crisis, with two-thirds of poll participants stating that either they or a family member had battled an addiction to drugs or alcohol, faced homelessness because of their addiction, or encountered a drug overdose that resulted in an emergency visit, hospitalization or fatality.

One in eight said they have felt they may be addicted to alcohol at some point, with others self-reporting they may have been addicted to prescription painkillers or illegal drugs like heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine, or cocaine. Opioid addiction, which encompasses both prescription painkillers and illegal opioids, has impacted nearly three in ten U.S. adults.

Addiction transcends demographic groups like income and gender. However, substance use is more prevalent in rural residents and white adults. Forty-two percent of people living in rural areas stated having a personal or familial experience with opioid addiction, with smaller percentages reported in suburban (30%) and urban (23%) settings. White adults (33%) were more likely to report these experiences than Black (23%), or Hispanic adults (28%).

Despite the statistics, less than half (46%) of those affected by addiction to prescription painkillers, alcohol, or illegal drugs, reported getting treatment. Twenty-five percent of those dealing with addiction have received medication for opioid use disorder, such as buprenorphine or methadone. 

The negative impacts of addiction extend beyond the individual and impact relationships, mental health, and finances. For 76% of individuals who experienced addiction personally or within their family, substance use had at least a minor impact on family relationships. Large portions of the survey participants described the impact of addiction as “major” for mental health (32%), family finances (29%), and family relationships (42%).

In addition, many expressed concerns about substance use disorders and other related issues. Over half of American adults are concerned a family member will experience substance use disorder. One-third (32%) are worried about the possibility of someone in their family overdosing on opioids, including prescription painkillers and illegal opioids such as heroin. People in the United States also fear the unintentional consumption of fentanyl, which is an extremely potent drug. 

The heightened awareness of the dangers of opioid addiction in recent years has prompted healthcare providers to discuss the risks of the prescriptions they are giving to their patients. Of those who received an opioid prescription for pain from their healthcare provider in the past five years, most report their doctor speaking with them about potential side effects (69%), alternative pain management methods (60%), secure storage of medications (58%), and the risk of dependence (57%).

The public has also expressed strong support for policies that aim to reduce drug overdoses. Ninety percent favored establishing addiction treatment centers in their communities. Eighty-two percent supported the free availability of Narcan, a life-saving emergency medication for opioid overdose, at bars, health clinics, and fire stations.

The substance use crisis in the U.S. has left a huge impact on individuals and families all over the country. Unfortunately, access to treatment remains inadequate despite the prevalence of addiction in our communities. Expanded access to treatment and implementation of harm reduction strategies are paramount in addressing this nationwide issue.