BIPP: Analyzing survey results on the opioid epidemic

Julia Pacifico, BIPP Intern

The opioid epidemic is undoubtedly a humanitarian crisis. Deaths from opioid overdoses have increased almost six times since 1999. The misuse of opioids continues to grow. The Department of Health and Human Services reported that approximately 130 people die every day from opioid-related drug overdoses. Americans across the country are affected by this epidemic and have varied opinions on how best to address the issue, some of which may seem out of the norm. Acknowledging and accepting that the public is moving away from conventional ideas concerning drug abuse in comparison to the dated response to the crack epidemic may be a sign of a break in the standard ideas of the exploitation of American drugs. 

The Bucknell Institute for Public Policy (BIPP) recently delivered a national survey to cross-examine the public’s opinion on how best to treat this subject of opioids. Introductory questions asked respondents if they considered the crisis to be contained within low-income and urban communities. Results showed that the public, in fact, does not believe such presumptions to be true. Such an outcome aligns with the conclusions drawn by Xina M. Uhl in her book, “Who Is Using Opioids and Opiates?” The opioid epidemic has spread across the nation and is not selective to people of a particular socioeconomic status, and the people agree. 

The Department of Health and Human Services also enumerated that 10.3 million people misused prescription opioids in 2018. In spite of this number, survey results showed a divide in the question of whether prescription opioids should be banned. Respondents ranging from late teens to late thirties were more likely to agree that prescription opioids should be banned. Those who fell above that age range were less likely to support the prescription ban. This age disparity among respondents on the ban of prescription opioids may be due to an increase of injury and suffering as one ages. Nevertheless, this result can be left to personal interpretation and is an avenue to explore in future research. 

Opioids have crossed the headlines of many high profile media outlets. However, the discussion is centered around the monumental court cases placing blame on major opioid distributors. In the survey are a series of four vignettes that were presented to the respondents. Each vignette described a 26-year-old successful graduate student who owed a considerable amount of student loans and, in order to settle some of those loans, they illegally obtained prescription opioids and intended to distribute the medication in order to generate additional income. Each vignette presented the same situation withstanding the name of each student. The four names were as listed: James, Darnell, Kathryn and Lucia; each of which is indicative of race and gender. The respondents were given three options on how to best handle each of the four cases: criminal prosecution, medical rehabilitation, or a $7,500 fine. (I would like to note here that option two for medical rehabilitation was aimed toward a different series of vignettes of people who were addicted and abusing opioids. The results were surprisingly unanimous in favor of medical rehabilitation). To align my research with the prominent discussion of the infamous lawsuits, I focused my analysis on the first option: criminal prosecution. The research focused on three different factors: partisanship, race and level of education. For partisanship, Republicans were 18 percentage points more likely than Democrats to recommend criminal prosecution. The difference between Independents and Republicans has a slight decrease, with Republicans performing at 12.6 percentage points higher than Independents. In terms of race, white citizens were 10.7 percentage points higher in favor of prosecution than black citizens and 10.54 percentage points higher than Hispanic citizens. Moving into education, the most notable difference was between those respondents with no high school education and those with a post-graduate education, the latter being 13.7 percentage points higher than the former in favor of prosecution.

The final evaluation studied the support for criminal prosecution across partisanship and name in each vignette. In semblance to the first analysis of partisanship, Republicans were more likely to recommend criminal prosecution. The most interesting results of this analysis are the percentage of differences between the names over party lines. For Republicans, Lucia was most likely to be suggested for prosecution followed by Kathryn, Darnell and James. For Democrats, Lucia was also first succeeded by James, Kathryn and then Darnell. Interestingly, Democrats and Republicans both recommend Lucia above all the other names for criminal prosecution. Republicans favored prosecution over Democrats with a difference of 13 percentage points for Lucia, 16 percentage points for James, 21 percentage points for Kathryn and 22 percentage points for Darnell. All of these results can be left up to personal evaluation. The culmination of the public opinion was not incredibly varied, nonetheless, such views may have implications for future public policy decisions regarding this ongoing epidemic and for ones to follow. 

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