- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 23, 2023

Republicans view opioids and fentanyl as the greatest threat to U.S. public health, while a roughly equal share of Democrats points to gun or firearm access as the biggest concern, according to a survey Thursday that revealed a partisan divide in health worries.

The Axios-Ipsos American Health Index found 37% of Republicans cited opioids/fentanyl as the top concern, edging out obesity at 25% and cancer at 17%. Gun access ranked low for GOP respondents, at 4%, and COVID-19 barely registered at 2%.

Fentanyl, which is the leading cause of death for Americans ages 18-45, is back in the headlines as the coronavirus pandemic recedes from view.

The Axios survey found 17% of Democrats see opioids/fentanyl as the main health threat, meaning it is on par with obesity but behind the 35% who pointed to gun and firearm access. About 9% of Democrats cited COVID-19 as the biggest worry.

House Democrats sought a classified briefing on mass shootings in January, while GOP leadership on the House Energy and Commerce Committee has held a series of hearings on fentanyl to start the new Congress.

Both sides are likely responding to concerns back home. High-profile shootings in recent months hit blue states like Illinois and California, while Appalachian states with heavy GOP representation have been battered by the opioid scourge over the past two decades.

About 44,000 people in the U.S. died from gun violence last year, according to the Gun Archive nonprofit that tracks the issue. Roughly 107,000 people died of drug overdoses in the 12 months ending in August, according to the most recent available data.

The rate of overdose deaths did decline for five straight months in mid-2022, though policymakers say the toll remains unacceptable and far above levels seen a decade ago.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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