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As Drug ODs Rise, Fewer See Addiction as 'Major Problem'

The share of Americans who see drug addiction as a “major problem” in their community has declined, even as drug overdose deaths have risen sharply. Public concern about addiction is down even in the parts of the U.S. where drug overdose death rates have increased the most, reports the Pew Research Center. Nearly 92,000 Americans died of drug overdoses in 2020, up from around 70,000 in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). During the same period, the rate of fatal overdoses rose from 21.7 to 28.3 per 100,000 people. Still, the share of Americans who say drug addiction is a major problem in their community fell by seven percentage points in subsequent Pew Research Center surveys – from 42 percent in 2018 to 35 percent in 2021.


In a separate Pew survey this year, drug addiction ranked lowest out of 18 priorities for the president and Congress to address. Fatal drug overdose rates increased in urban, suburban and rural areas between 2017 and 2020. The share of Americans who say drug addiction is a major problem decreased in all three types of areas. Declines ranged from 10 percentage points in urban areas (from 43 percent in 2018 to 33 percent in 2021) to five points in suburban areas (from 39 percent to 34 percent. Public concern about drug addiction has declined even in areas with high levels of drug overdose death rates. In areas with higher-than-median drug overdose death rates in 2017 and 2020, the share of Americans who say drug addiction is a major problem in their community fell by eight points between 2018 and 2021, from 45 percent to 37 percent. It’s not clear why public concern about drug addiction has declined. Surveys show that Americans have prioritized other issues, including the national economy, reducing health care costs and dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.

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