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Many Americans Have Misconceptions about Opioids, Mayo Clinic Survey Finds

Newspaper article

Many Americans Have Misconceptions about Opioids, Mayo Clinic Survey Finds

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Although most Americans say they would prefer being treated with something other than an opioid medication to relieve pain after surgery, few of them talk to their health care provider about it, according to the results of a survey released Tuesday by the Mayo Clinic.

The survey also found that many Americans have some stunning misconceptions about opioid addiction, including beliefs that the greatest danger is to people living in urban areas and that that they themselves are not personally at risk.

“It’s important that the public understand that there’s a risk with taking these medications, and that it’s not just a risk for everyone else,” said Dr. Helen Gazelka, a pain specialist and chair of Mayo Clinic’s Opioid Stewardship Program, in an interview with MinnPost. “Anyone who takes an opioid can be at risk of an addiction.”

Indeed, health officials estimate that about one in four patients prescribed opioids for chronic pain will go on to misuse the drugs, and about one in 10 will become addicted to them.

The United States is in the midst of a national opioid crisis, in which prescription opioid medications have played a major role. In 2016, opioid overdoses claimed more than 42,000 deaths — more than any other year on record, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

About 40 percent of those deaths involved a prescription opioid.

A reluctance to ask questions

The new survey is the latest in the Mayo Clinic National Health Checkup series, “a kind of litmus test we do of Americans’ understandings and perhaps even their opinions about matters in health care,” explained Gazelka. The survey on attitudes regarding opioids was conducted in July and involved a nationally representative sample of 1,270 adults living across the U.S.

Of the people surveyed, 94 percent said they would opt for an alternative treatment — such as physical therapy, over-the-counter pain relievers, acupuncture or medical marijuana — to avoid opioid pain medications. Most (34 percent) cited fear of addiction as the main reason for wanting to forgo the opioids.

But only a quarter of the respondents said they had actually discussed such alternatives with their health care provider when the need came up.

“In spite of how good of advocates we’ve become for ourselves and how much we Google things to look them up, patients still sometimes have a reluctance to question their provider,” said Gazelka.

Dangerous misconceptions

The survey also found that a significant proportion of Americans harbor several misunderstandings about opioids and the opioid crisis.

A large majority (67 percent) said, for example, that they were confident that they would not become addicted to opioids if prescribed the drugs for the treatment of chronic pain. Yet, although it’s true that not everyone who takes opioid pain medications becomes addicted, experts say there is no way to tell who will get hooked.

“I think there may be a human tendency to think that it might happen to someone else, but not to me,” said Gazelka. “But that’s certainly not true. “There’s a risk of addiction for everyone who uses opioids. …

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