Everybody has an opinion, but opinions aren’t facts. Ideally, polls can determine what those opinions are, but the data is sometimes hard to interpret. The best pollsters and analysts are honest, but sometimes questions can be slanted to record the desired result (“push polls”) and sometimes the results can be interpreted in a slanted way.
Recently WNYT-TV commissioned a poll of New Yorkers conducted by Siena College Research Initiative on the topic of “Who is Responsible for This (Opioid) Crisis?”The poll is part of the station’s project Prescription for Progress: United Against Opioid Addiction. Siena is a Roman Catholic liberal arts college.
The results reveal that one in four (26%) New Yorkers think the “single contributor … most responsible for the current level of opioid abuse” is “Doctors over-prescribing opioids”, followed (at 17% each) by “Allowing patients access to too many pain pills” and “The moral failings of individuals”, with “Pharmaceutical Companies promoting legal drugs without fully warning about risks” just slightly behind at 16%.
The first two categories seem related (who is providing “access to too many pain pills” if not doctors?), and it’s not surprising (though disappointing) that “moral failing” is essentially tied for second place.
As for how to fix the problem, respondees said to spend 25% of the available money “funding treatment and rehabilitation”, with another 22% on “addressing the root causes of addiction.” That’s suggesting almost half (47%) of money spent on addiction should go to treatment and fixing the problems that lead to addiction.
But the emphasis that Siena College Research Institute director Don Levy chose to highlight in an interview was that “There is a recognition that we need to devote more dollars to arresting folks, to empowering the courts to work on greater severity of sentencing for traffickers.”
That doesn’t seem like an impartial pollster or statistician. He’s not only saying that’s the opinion of those polled, or that he agrees with them, but that they are objectively correct.
It’s not even clear that those polled believe that. Only 5% combined felt that insufficient attention from federal and local law enforcement was most responsible for the opioid epidemic, and only 16% of funding dollars were recommended to go to “empowering the criminal justice system to address the problem.”
The rest was recommended for “public education and awareness“ (19%) and “addressing those that are responsible for opioid abuse both through litigation and regulation” (18%).
According to most sources, more is already spent on arresting people and courts than treatment.
In 1993, Stanford University recorded, “The government spent only $2.5 billion on treatment programs compared to $7.8 billion on drug law enforcement”, or more than 75% on enforcement compared to less than 25% on treatment. According to the Drug Policy Alliance, of the $26 billion spent on the War on Drugs in 2015, the ratio is 56% on “policies that attempt to reduce the supply of drugs, such as interdiction, eradication, and domestic law enforcement“, and 44% on “treatment, education, and prevention“.
So does Levy think we spend less than the 16% on drug law enforcement that the poll suggests, or that the actual 56% we spent in 2015 is not enough? Either way, it seems to represent a skewed view of the poll results and the facts.
A 1995 study by the RAND Corporation found that “cocaine consumption can be reduced over 15 years by an average of 1 percent per year by spending an additional $34 million per year for treatment”, far less than the $250 million it would cost for the same result through law enforcement efforts, $370 million for drug interdiction at the borders, or $780 million to get foreign governments to stop suppliers at home.