MILLBURN, NJ -- Nearly half of New Jersey residents who participated in a recent survey report little or no concern about the potential dangers of prescription pain medication to themselves or a family member, according to the study released today by the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey (PDFNJ).

The study, conducted in December 2017 by Dr. Itzhak Yanovitzky from the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University in collaboration with the Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, found that despite drug overdoses being the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States, respondents were more concerned with driving accidents, gun violence, infectious disease and severe weather as potential causes of injury or death.

“It is alarming that more than half of the respondents either are not aware of the potential tragic effects of prescription opioid misuse or believe that they and their families are immune to those dangers,” PDFNJ Executive Director Angelo Valente said. “While progress has been made in educating New Jersey residents about the links between prescription opioids and heroin use, there is still a long way to go for the levels of awareness and action to match the devastating consequences this epidemic is having on our state and nation.”

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The survey was conducted with a sample of 774 adults provided by Survey Sampling International (SSI). Only about 17 percent of survey respondents indicated they were very concerned about the risks of prescription opioids, and another 29 percent said they were somewhat concerned. More than half of all respondents said that are not very concerned or not concerned at all about the risk of prescription opioid addiction. An estimated 2,000 people in New Jersey died of opioid overdoses in 2016.

“It appears that many adults in the state underestimate the risks posed by prescription opioids, which are killing more people in New Jersey than guns, car accidents and suicides combined,” said Dr. Yanovitzky.   

nationwide study, conducted last year by the National Safety Council, that asked similar questions found that 41 percent of respondents did not consider prescription pain medication as a potential cause of injury or death to themselves or their family. Of the 59 percent that expressed concern, 41 percent had “minimal concern” about the effects of prescription opioids.

The PDFNJ study also revealed that about a third of all respondents were prescribed opioid painkillers during the past three years, but one-fourth of them opted not to take the medication. About 57 percent of respondents who were prescribed opioid painkillers obtained the prescription following a non-work-related injury, surgery or outpatient procedure such as the extraction of a wisdom tooth. Of those prescribed pain medication, only about 25 percent said they were concerned about getting addicted to opioid painkillers. About half reported being more concerned about non-life-threatening side effects, such as grogginess and upset stomach.

The findings of the survey point to significant misperceptions regarding the individuals or groups who are most likely to be victimized by prescription opioid addiction. Whereas many respondents correctly perceive that about anyone who uses prescription opioids is at risk for addiction, a little more than half of all respondents still believe that individuals with addictive personality, those with a family history of drug addiction, and individuals with mental illness are the most likely to develop addiction.