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Siena Polls New Yorkers On Opioid Epidemic

Needle used for Heroin

Many New Yorkers believe doctors are to blame for the opioid epidemic gripping their communities and the nation, according to a Siena College poll released Sunday.

According to the survey, New Yorkers cite doctors who overprescribe opioids as the primary contributor to the crisis.

Siena College Research Institute Director Don Levy says nearly 6 out of 10 Capital Region residents have been impacted by the opioid epidemic. Pollsters asked "Who does the public hold responsible for this?”  "Topping the list, the public says that doctors simply overprescribe these prescription opioids. And they see that as starting what we now experience as the current epidemic. Additionally, they think that pharmaceutical companies promoted these drugs as being safe and non-addictive and that has turned out not to be the case. Interestingly, the public also says 'You know what? There are some people who simply have moral failings and perhaps are susceptible to the use of these drugs.’ But the government doesn't get a pass either. We find that two-thirds of respondents said 'Our government, whether it's New York State or health departments, various government entities simply are not doing enough to address the crisis at this point and they'd like to see the government do more.'"

Levy says the poll also finds most New Yorkers believe there's a lack of public awareness programs about the dangers of opioids.   "Twenty percent say they'd like to see more money spent on awareness. Let people know what's going on. Invite people to say 'It's not just happening to me, this is widespread.’"

Two-thirds of New Yorkers say government agencies aren't doing enough to address opioid abuse.  "We need to stop the flow of drugs. We need to treat people. We need to find out why they use drugs, we need to make people aware and we need to empower the criminal justice system."

Levy notes more than 70 percent of those polled mentioned societal pressures like economic problems and insufficient attention paid by federal law enforcement as contributing to the problem.   "And so what we did is we said 'Okay, let's say that you were in charge of a hundred percent of the money that's available to address the opioid epidemic. What would you do?’ And leading the list of people would like to see, 25 cents out of every dollar they'd like to see go to funding additional treatment and rehabilitation. Interestingly, finishing in second place, 22 percent were in favor of addressing the root causes, which could include mental illness, could include various aspects of poverty that make people susceptible to these drugs."

Nearly 1,400 New Yorkers were surveyed as part of an effort by Prescription for Progress: Patti Hart is director of cross-media business development at the Times Union.  "Prescription for Progress is a coalition of community leaders united against opioid addiction. We want to raise awareness of the epidemic and take positive steps to bring about change. This initiative was launched earlier this year when Times Union's publisher convened a conversation. That conversation brought together representatives from healthcare, media, law enforcement, education and business. All these are organizations with a view on how the epidemic is harming our community. So far, we've completed a survey with Siena College and envision a second one that will target people who are on the front lines of fighting the epidemic."

Hart says the coalition is looking for people from the Capital Region to join the effort, either as an individual or on behalf of their organizations.  Here's a link to sign up.

The Medical Society of the State of New York did not return a call for comment in time for broadcast.

Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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