Tuesday, August 03, 2021

In rural America, religious attendance and norms reduce compassion for people who use opioids



News Release 3-Aug-2021
 A new study found that religious individuals in Appalachian and Midwestern states were more likely to support punitive drug policies.
Peer-Reviewed Publication


Estimates suggest that 1.7 million people in the United States suffer from opioid-related substance abuse disorders and approximately 50,000 people die each year from an opioid-related overdose.

The opioid epidemic is a widespread crisis, but rural areas—particularly those in Appalachian and Midwestern states—have been the hardest hit. However, many individuals in those same states do not support policies scientifically proven to help, like medically aided treatment and syringe exchanges.

A new study from the Social Action Lab at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication found that individuals in rural areas of Appalachia and the Midwest who regularly attend religious services were more likely to support punitive drug policies and less likely to support policies that aid people who use drugs. They were also more likely to support the same policies as those they perceived their religious leaders supported, whether punitive or supportive. The findings suggest that religious leaders, if persuaded of the benefits of policies that aid people with a substance use disorder, could influence the general population’s opinion toward those measures.

“Many religious communities have either disapproved of or overtly repudiated protective drug policies, like medication-assisted treatment, retail access to syringes, or syringe exchange programs,” says Dolores Albarracín, Alexandra Heyman Nash University Professor and Director of the Social Action Lab. “This is largely because they interpret substance use as a moral failure rather than a disease and see these kinds of programs as enabling drug use. Our study supports this hypothesis, but it also indicates that religious leaders could be mobilized to support protective and efficacious drug policy to curb the opioid epidemic.”


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