Chronic Pain Ranks Well Below Drug Addiction as a Major Health Problem in New National Public Opinion Poll

High Percentage of Americans Concerned About Misuse of Pain Medication

A new national public opinion poll commissioned by Research!America shows only 18% of respondents believe chronic pain is a major health problem, even though a majority of Americans (63%) say they know someone who experienced pain so severe that they sought prescription medicines to treat it. Chronic pain conditions affect about 100 million U.S. adults at a cost of approximately $600 billion annually in direct medical treatment costs and lost productivity.   

Most Americans are concerned about the misuse of pain medication to treat chronic pain. A high percentage (82%) believes that taking prescription painkillers for long-term, chronic pain could result in addiction, which nearly 50% of Americans describe as a major health problem. An overwhelming majority (85%) are very concerned or somewhat concerned that prescription pain medication can be abused or misused. Indeed, 40% believe that prescription medication abuse and addiction is a major problem in their community.

According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 1.9 million people are addicted to prescription pain relievers. The number of unintentional overdose deaths from prescription pain relievers has quadrupled since 1999, outnumbering those from heroin and cocaine combined. As drug addiction becomes more prevalent, most Americans are split on whether addiction and chronic pain are getting the attention they deserve by medical researchers, elected officials and media.

“We need to better understand addiction,” said Research!America President and CEO Mary Woolley. “We shouldn’t shy away from research on new pain treatments based on fears of abuse. The suffering is simply too great. More robust investment in research and the engagement and support of policy makers and health care providers are essential to developing effective strategies to reduce the prevalence of addiction.”

Two-thirds of those polled (66%) were unaware that tamper- and abuse-resistant formulations for some prescription pain medications are now available. These formulations of medications have physical and chemical properties that make them more difficult to abuse; for example, making pills harder to crush to inject or snort.

Other poll highlights:

  • 60% say chronic pain tends to be dismissed by doctors and the public.
  • More than half (54%) say doctors are not discussing the possibility of developing dependence or addiction to pain medication enough with their patients.
  • 52% believe doctors should have limits on the amount and dosage of pain medication they are allowed to prescribe.
  • Based on their experience or what they have heard, respondents say they would use the following treatments to try to relieve chronic pain: physical therapy (64%), over-the-counter pain medication (55%), diet or lifestyle change (54%), chiropractor (49%), prescription pain medication (47%), herbal remedies (38%), and acupuncture (36%).
  • When asked what percentage of drug overdose deaths involve physician-prescribed pain medication or prescription medication obtained illegally, responses varied widely. In fact, 75% of pharmaceutical overdose deaths involve an opioid pain medication.
  • Only 4% say it’s the responsibility of law enforcement to address the prescription drug abuse problem.

The national public opinion poll was conducted online in March 2013 by Zogby Analytics for Research!America. The poll had a sample size of 1,016 with a theoretical sampling error of +/- 3.1%.

To view the poll, visit:

About Research!America polls

Research!America began commissioning polls in 1992 in an effort to understand public support for medical, health and scientific research. The results of Research!America’s polls have proven invaluable to our alliance of member organizations and, in turn, to the fulfillment of our mission to make research to improve health a higher national priority. In response to growing usage and demand, Research!America has expanded its portfolio, which includes state, national and issue-specific polling. Poll data is available by request or at

One response

  1. I can tell you from 7 back surgeries at 58 years old I live every day in chronic pain. I have 3 scars over 6″ long on my back and two more 3″ long from back surgeries and I can’t get the pain meds that I need. Are dr.’s just stupid or what? I live everyday sitting in a reclined position because I can’t sit up, stand up or walk more than 50′ and I can’t get pain meds. Does it look like I am faking it for pain med abuse? I can’t play with my grandkids, I can’t take my wife out to dinner, I can’t sit at the table long enough to enjoy a meal with my family! I sleep about every other night because I can’t stay in one position more than 4 hours even when I am dead tired. I am fused from S1 all the way to L2 and I am faking pain just to get pain meds? Dr.’s tell me they can’t give me anything stronger than hydrocodone. Hydrocodone is like aspirin when comes to my pain level and is killing my liver. I was on oxycontin for almost 10 years and the dr. one day just told me I couldn’t have it anymore. I had to quit my job which I got promoted while I was taking oxycontin. I drank nearly a fifth of whiskey a day to try and kill the pain. I would drink till I passed out and when I woke up several hours later I would start all over. I thought about suicide many times because of the pain I was in. This is how pain meds would kill me and not from overdose. I had 2 back surgeries last year to try and kill the pain. I went to rehab for withdrawals from oxycontin and alcohol for 30 days to try and get to where I could manage the pain. I paid thousands of dollars for exercise equipment that was used in physical therapy which none of that helped. Now I don’t drink but I take a mild pain pill the dr. gives me which really does nothing to help. I would try medical marijuana if it was legal in my state. I thought about moving to a state it was legal but I would have to give up my marriage because my wife owns our business and manages it for our income. I can’t work or do anything, what a life because of people making decisions they don’t have any business making for people like me. Your poll is made up of people that are not going through what I am going through. If you ever hurt your back multiply that times 10 and that is what I feel like every day. It’s funny I can buy pain meds off the street from young kids but I can’t get it from a dr.. Those are the ones that need to be observed. Offer back surgery and see how bad their back pain is. Tell them it is the only way they will get better and see how fast they leave the office and go to another dr. to see if he will give it to them. You have to be a good actor to get pain meds and I am not an actor and it shouldn’t be that way.

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