Online Bonus: Opioid Dependence: Misperceptions Abound, but Physicians Can Help


Despite the prevalence of opioid dependence (addiction)—nearly half Americans responding to recent survey said they had a personal connection with addiction, and 12 percent had personally struggled with addiction—misperceptions are widespread in the lay public and among health professionals. The survey, conducted online by Harris Interactive and commissioned by Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals Inc., involved more than 1,000 adults ages 26-49 and 200 non-Drug Addiction Treatment Act (DATA) 2000 certified primary care doctors, found that, while 88 percent of doctors recognize addiction as a disease, only 59 percent of the American public does.

Both lay and physician respondents agreed that misuse or abuse of opioid prescription painkillers poses a significant burden on the US healthcare system, and most acknowledged that stigmatization can hinder treatment. About three quarters of adults and 93 percent of doctors mention shame or embarrassment, fear that others will find out and/or fear of putting life on hold as reasons why those suffering from addiction, would preclude individuals from seeking treatment. Sixty-eight percent of adults and 80 percent of doctors say opioid dependence represents a mental health problem; nearly half of adults (45 percent) and 30 percent of doctors believe opioid dependence is more of a psychological problem (e.g., lifestyle choice) rather than a physical illness (e.g., chronic disease). Despite many accurate observations by surveyed individuals, many misconceptions were evident. For example, While nine-in-ten adults and doctors agree opioid dependence can happen to anyone, doctors indicated that they felt a low level of education (66 percent) and a low income (57 percent), among other factors, increased one’s likelihood to experience opioid dependence. Only about one-quarter of doctors believe any doctor can prescribe medication to treat someone with opioid dependence.

“The stigma that unjustly exists towards those who suffer from opioid dependence could negatively impact or even prevent people from receiving the care they need,” said Mark L. Kraus, MD, FASAM, assistant clinical professor of medicine at Yale University School of Medicine and a fellow of the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM). “What is eye-opening about the survey is the realization that the treatment community has contributed to perpetuating it; there is a desperate need for doctors who are willing to treat opioid dependence as they would other chronic diseases.”

Dr. Kraus spoke to Practical Neurology about the survey and the challenges of opioid dependence. You can listen to his comments here.

The general public and healthcare community can learn more about opioid dependence, obtain tools to help manage doctor visit conversations, and “find a doctor” in the local area who understands how to treat opioid dependence in a private setting by visiting Reckitt Benckiser Pharmaceuticals created the Turn To Help® initiative to increase public awareness of opioid dependence and to provide much needed resources to people living with this chronic disease.


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Launched in 2002, Practical Neurology is a publication uniquely dedicated to presenting current approaches to patient management, synthesis of emerging research and data, and analysis of industry news with a goal to facilitate practical application and improved clinical practice for all neurologists. Our straightforward articles give neurologists tools they can immediately put into practice.