Poll: Providing treatment over criminalization for opioid users shows strong support

RICHMOND, Va (WRIC) – Virginia Commonwealth University released a poll Tuesday which found strong support from opioid users on the topics of public safety, substance abuse and mental health.

More than seven out of 10 (72 percent) respondents felt that prescription drug users should be offered treatment instead of being arrested and criminally charged. Six out of 10 (61 percent) felt that the same treatment should be offered to heroin users. These same respondents felt that people who suffer from mental illness should be offered similar treatment programs instead of being incarcerated.

The amount of opioid users and their effect on the criminal justice system has spiked in recent months around the country and Virginia is not excluded from this spike.

In November 2016, Virginia State Health Commissioner Marissa Levine declared a public health emergency and said, “The consequences of opioid addiction in Virginia have risen to unprecedented levels and can now be classified as epidemic.”

Despite that fact that the majority of poll respondents are in favor of drug treatment programs, there were major differences among those who were identified as Republican, Democrat or Independent.

Among those who favored treatment among heroin users, 38 percent were identified as Democrat, 18 percent Republican and 38 percent Independent as compared to 35 percent Democrat, 24 percent Republican and 35 percent Independent who favor treatment for prescription medication abuse.

However, there was overwhelming support for treatment for opioid users suffering mental illness by both Republicans (81 percent) and Democrats (92 percent).

As with issues of substance abuse and mental illness, police community relations are also at the forefront of public debate.

More than three-quarters of poll respondents believe police in their community treat people fairly (78 percent), do a good job handling race relations in their community (75 percent), and use the appropriate amount of force in dealing with suspects (73 percent).

“After surveying the results, I am pleased to see that support for our law enforcement officials is trending positively, and the job they are doing in communities is viewed favorably. The poll also demonstrates support for the governor’s initiatives with regard to mental health and combating the opioid epidemic,” said Brian Moran, Virginia secretary of public safety and homeland security.

This poll was conducted by the Office of Public Policy Outreach in the Center for Public Policy at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, obtained telephone interviews with a representative sample of 1,000 adults living in Virginia. The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. The interviews were administered from Dec. 1 to 20, 2016. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is ±4.1 percentage points.

 

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