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With drug abuse top of mind, Americans urge compassionate care

Some 62 percent of Americans describe drug abuse as a serious problem in their communities, in a recent poll. But rather than cracking down on users, most respondents prioritized treatment programs over incarceration.

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    Sharon Johnson poses in her Lynn, Mass., apartment, March 24. She calls herself an addict, although she’s been sober for three years now. She started by smoking pot and eventually moved to crack cocaine.
    Michael Dwyer/AP
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A majority of Americans say drug abuse in the United States is a problem and that more needs to be done to address it, according to a recent poll.

The poll, conducted by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, not only reflects the growing concern over drug abuse in the United States, but also a change in attitudes about potential solutions.

"To lock someone up for using, it's not going to solve anything. They're going to rebel," Sharon Johnson, a poll respondent, told AP in a follow-up interview. "For dealers, in my eyes, they should be locked up."

The poll found that 62 percent of Americans said that at least one type of substance use – including alcohol, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, meth-amphetamines, and prescription pills – was a serious problem in their communities. Some 43 percent said they have a relative or close friend with substance abuse issues.

But rather than cracking down on users, most respondents prioritized punishment for drug dealers and said treatment programs should be made more accessible. Seven in 10 Americans believe not enough is being done to find better addiction treatment.

Meanwhile, the number of drug-related deaths across the country keeps rising as addicts continue to seek higher highs and cheaper fixes. The New York Times reports that the number of deaths from fentanyl – a heroin-like pharmaceutical that’s 100 times more potent than morphine – has skyrocketed across New England in recent years.

Ms. Johnson, who lives in Lynn, Mass., has experienced the ravages of drug addiction firsthand. Although she’s been sober from crack cocaine for three years now, she still worries about her daughter, who has tried heroin.

"I believe I'm going to pull her out of the gutter someday," Johnson said. She, like many respondents, says treatment options need to be improved for addicts while punishment needs to be harsher for dealers.

After spending six months in an outpatient substance abuse treatment program, Johnson is now on disability and hopes to complete her education.

"Before I got locked up, my probation officer told me, 'Sharon, you're going to end up dead,' " Johnson said. "I was in denial a long time, and one day I did a complete turnaround."

This report includes material from The Associated Press.

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