57% Of Mass. Adults Know Someone Struggling With Opioid Addiction, WBUR Poll Shows

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An arrangement of Percocet pills (Patrick Sison/AP)
An arrangement of Percocet pills (Patrick Sison/AP)

A new WBUR poll shows that the opioid epidemic is hitting more and more Massachusetts residents close to home.

The survey of 660 adults (topline results, crosstabs) found that more than half (57%) say they know someone who has struggled with opioid addiction over the last year alone.

Additionally, 53% of respondents say addiction in Massachusetts to heroin and other opiates, including prescription painkillers, is a “crisis,” with an additional 39% saying the issue is a “major problem."

The poll's release comes a day after state data showed that 2018 was the third straight year of about 2,000 opioid-related overdose deaths in Massachusetts.

The survey also suggests that most state residents aren’t on board with a controversial law that allows the state to use jails and prisons to involuntarily commit some men to addiction treatment.

Nearly 70% of respondents say they are somewhat or strongly opposed to the practice, including 42-year-old Nikki Fortes from Boston.

"I think there need to be treatment centers; maybe opening the ones we had before that have been closed down might be helpful. I don’t think just forcibly incarcerating people is an effective way to treat addiction," Fortes said.

But 36-year-old Michael Proule of New Bedford says the law can help people who otherwise wouldn't seek treatment on their own.

"My sister and her husband got hooked on heroin — they were shooting up. It destroyed my nephews and my niece. When you’re in that mind state, you can’t think straight, and you need help and you need to be forced to get help," Proule said.

A state commission set up last year to review the law — called Section 35 — is expected to deliver a preliminary report next week.

Among the members of that commission is Democratic state Sen. Cindy Friedman, who says jails are not the right place to treat people struggling with addiction.

“I understand that, in some cases, we need to just get people into a safe place," she said. "But it's all treatment-focused; it's all about getting people healthy and in treatment. And I firmly believe that can’t happen in an environment where the structure is about corrections and punishment.”

The live telephone poll was conducted by the MassINC Polling Group from Thursday through Monday. It has a margin of error of 3.8%.

Click the audio player next to this story's headline for a conversation with Sen. Friedman.

This segment aired on May 15, 2019.


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Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.


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Khari Thompson Producer, Radio Boston
Khari Thompson is a producer for Radio Boston.



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