Aug 17, 2023 - Health

Americans' biggest fears: Opioids surge past guns in Axios-Ipsos poll

Data: Axios-Ipsos poll; Chart: Axios Visuals

The summertime rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations is making some Americans rethink if the pandemic is over, but it isn't persuading them to start wearing masks again or test for the virus, according to the latest Axios-Ipsos American Health Index.

The big picture: Economic and political turmoil, along with unease about developments like AI, have left many Americans numb to public health threats, though issues like the opioid crisis and shortage of cancer drugs are still registering.

  • Gun violence, which ranked as the top threat to public health when we asked the question in May, has dropped to No. 3 behind opioids and obesity, with noticeably fewer Democrats listing it as their top concern.

What they found: On COVID, 50% somewhat or strongly agree the pandemic is over, compared to 62% in May.

  • The percentage of people who wear a mask some or all of the time has dropped by half over the past six months, to 15%.
  • 69% say contracting COVID poses small or no risk to their health and well-being.
  • 95% say they've taken one or fewer COVID tests at home in the past week.

What they're saying: "The concern about rising COVID cases is mixed, but what's more clear is that there's really no behavioral change," said Mallory Newall, vice president at Ipsos. "Moreover, the perceived level of risk of contracting COVID remains low — on par with getting a tick or mosquito bite."

The public's awareness of other health issues is comparatively low. Fewer than half say they're somewhat or very familiar with record-high drug overdose deaths, the ongoing shortages of some cancer drugs or the Food and Drug Administration's approval of over-the-counter birth control. Still, they said they cared about those issues when asked about them.

  • In sizing up what most concerns them, the perceived threat of gun violence appears to be more acutely tied to specific events like widely covered mass shootings while opioid misuse or obesity is more of a constant worry.
  • "It's still definitely a top-tier concern, but lacks the consistent focus we see with opioids," Newall said.
  • Where a person lives is a big factor: Substantially more people in rural areas rank opioids and fentanyl as a top concern than those in urban and suburban areas, who are likelier to rank firearms high on their list.

Between the lines: Economic concerns also have made the public highly sensitive to drug prices and matters like insurer coverage of mental health care.

  • 74% somewhat or strongly support capping out-of-pocket prescription drug costs at $2,000 a year, as the Inflation Reduction Act will for Medicare recipients beginning in 2025.
  • 89% somewhat or strongly back health insurers covering mental health care at the same levels as physical health care.
  • 80% similarly support the government using anti-monopoly powers to prevent pharmaceutical companies from getting too big or dominant.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents continue to support making Medicaid or SNAP benefits recipients work in order to receive benefits.

  • And 64% somewhat or strongly oppose letting people who aren't obese or diabetic use weight-loss drugs to lose weight.

Our thought bubble: Multiple crises have pushed health concerns to the back of the public's minds post-pandemic. But that doesn't mean certain issues won't resonate when they go to the polls next year.

Methodology: This Axios/Ipsos Poll was conducted Aug. 11-14 by Ipsos' KnowledgePanel®. This poll is based on a nationally representative probability sample of 1,162 general population adults age 18 or older.

  • The margin of sampling error is ±3.0 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample of adults.
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