One in three Illinois residents have been impacted by the opioid epidemic, but many still aren't concerned about prescription painkillers posing a danger to their families, according to a new poll from the National Safety Council.
The Itasca-based nonprofit organization released the survey results Thursday as part of International Overdose Awareness Day, which is observed annually to remember the more than 52,000 people who die each year from drug overdoses.
"It's well-documented that our country is facing a heroin and prescription drug epidemic," said Deborah Hersman, president of the council. "Drug overdoses, largely from opioids, have risen sharply since 1999."
In the survey of 1,000 Illinois residents, one-third of respondents indicated they have known someone who became addicted to opioids, known someone who overdosed or died from an overdose, or became addicted themselves.
"Our nation's drug crisis is not in the shadows," Hersman said. "It's in our neighborhood blocks, in our workplaces, in our children's schools and in our doctor's offices."
Still, Hersman said, there's a troubling contrast between the reality of the problem and the way residents perceive it.
Forty-one percent of the survey respondents indicated they aren't concerned about prescription pain medication as a potential cause of injury or death for their family. Only 35 percent ranked opioid overdose as the leading cause of preventable death in the country.
In reality, drug overdoses -- largely from prescription opioids -- are the leading cause of preventable death among American adults.
"It is the first time since World War II that something other than car crashes has been the leading cause of accidental death in the United States," Hersman said.
Hersman revealed the poll results alongside Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti, former NBA player Rex Chapman, and Felicia Miceli, whose son, Louie, died from a heroin overdose in 2012.
Chapman talked about how he became addicted to painkillers after being prescribed oxycodone in 2001.
"Within three days, I knew I loved this drug," he said. "It just had a grip on me."
He struggled for years with the addiction until his third stint in rehab was successful. Chapman said he has gone nearly three years without opioids.
"I have people say all the time, 'You don't look like an addict,'" he said. "I am the face of addiction -- many of us are."
Last year in Illinois, 2,350 people died of drug overdoses -- and prescription opioids or heroin contributed to nearly 80 percent of those deaths.
"It's taking down a young generation," Miceli said as she held a large photo of her late son. "Until we stand up strong and loud, it's not going to change."
The Medinah resident says the number of deaths is climbing. "I go to funerals and funerals and funerals," she said, "and I'm tired of it."
Curbing the epidemic is going to require strong laws, advocacy and education, officials say.
Sanguinetti said awareness of the problem must be increased. She said there also needs to be a discussion about how Illinois is going respond.
She said multiple state agencies are working to develop an action plan.
"We've looked to best practices in other states -- what's working, what's not working," said Sanguinetti, adding the plan could be unveiled soon.
Other findings from the poll's respondents include:
• 88 percent weren't concerned about becoming addicted to opioids, despite 51 percent reporting a personal or family history that puts them at risk of addiction.
• 40 percent kept leftover drugs for future use.
• 65 percent don't believe sharing opioid painkillers is a felony offense.
• 38 percent have never heard of narcan, a nonaddictive drug that counteracts the effects of opiates.
• 16 percent feel confident they can spot the signs of misuse or abuse of painkillers.
• 18 percent are very confident they can spot the signs of an overdose.
• 35 percent are not confident they know where to go if they or someone they know needs treatment.
In addition to releasing the survey findings, the council hosted narcan training sessions and a rally at its headquarters. The rally was one of many that took place around the country as part of "Fed Up! Rally for a Federal Response to the Opioid Epidemic."