Survey Reveals Changing Attitudes about Opioids

Jan 19, 2018

A new survey of likely West Virginia voters on the issues expected to come up during this year’s legislative session included some striking views on the state’s opioid epidemic.

Pollsters with Orion Strategies, a public relations firm, asked if voters view addiction as a medical condition or as a moral weakness. About a third said it’s a disease, just over 40 percent said it’s a moral failing – and about a fifth said it was both.

Viewing it as a moral failing, said the firm’s president Curtis Wilkerson, "lends itself to people believing more likely that people can just stop if they want to, it’s a choice at that point, as opposed to a medical condition. That alters the conversation about what the treatment options are, and it alters the conversation about how society and government and the voters feel that addiction should be dealt with.”

About two-thirds of voters said they know someone who’s suffering or has suffered from addiction to opioids, up from half when Orion asked that question two years ago.

The firm, which has offices in Charleston and Buckhannon, polled 365 likely West Virginia voters between Friday, Jan. 12, and Monday, Jan. 15, via cellphone or landline. Among the respondents, 46 percent identified as Democrat, 34 percent were Republican and 20 percent were Independent, a breakdown Mr. Wilkerson said generally reflects voter registration in the state.

Half of those polled said opioid and heroin addiction should be addressed primarily through medically-assisted treatments, while a third favored an abstinence-only model. And nearly three-quarters of voters said they would support providing free long-term birth control to women addicted to opioids. State Senate Finance Chairman Craig Blair, a Republican from Berkeley County, has floated that controversial idea as one way to tackle the problem.

More than half of those polled said the state’s opioid epidemic has gotten worst and about a third said it’s stayed the same. Only 5 percent said they thought it had improved.

“The West Virginia legislature, the United States Congress and a number of elected officials have been working toward dealing with the opioid epidemic for the last several years, and so the question is, ‘Do voters feel those efforts are working?’ and the answer was no,” Mr. Wilkerson said.

Pollsters also asked voters’ thoughts on teacher compensation and co-tenancy, which allows companies to drill a well and drain the gas in a given area if the owners of 51 percent of the mineral rights agree, and recreational marijuana use for adults 21 and over. West Virginians seem to have warmed to the latter idea: About a third were for it, and just over 60 percent were against it. A year ago, those figures were a quarter and 70 percent, respectively.