Summit County residents are most worried about substance abuse — as opposed to jobs, the economy, crime or education, a new poll says.
The Center for Marketing and Opinion Research released its annual Community Pulse Report this week, with "substance abuse/heroin epidemic" topping the list as the most important problem facing the county. It was the second consecutive year that drugs were cited as the No. 1 issue, with 31.6 percent of respondents highlighting it this year.
Last year, substance abuse was cited by 29.3 percent.
When it came to identifying the biggest problem in the community, the question was open-ended, allowing people to cite any issue.
Researchers previously lumped substance abuse under the topic of crime and safety, but so many people in recent years mentioned it specifically that it has become its own category the last two years, said Amanda Barna, vice president at the Center for Marketing and Opinion Research.
The company has conducted the poll each year since 2007 on behalf of local organizations that pay for the survey.
Jerry Craig, the executive director of the Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services agency, wasn't surprised that substance abuse was rated so highly.
"When we talk to people in the public, virtually everyone we talk to has seen this touch someone in their family or in their circle of friends or co-workers," he said.
Summit County Public Health has reported 1,149 overdoses so far this year that resulted in people showing up at local hospital emergency rooms.
As substance abuse has risen as a concern, employment and the economy have fallen as hot button issues. Barna noted how employment used to lead the poll every year and was even cited by nearly 50 percent of respondents in 2010.
This year, it tied for fourth with the economy at 9.8 percent.
She called that a "staggering difference."
The top eight issues were: substance abuse (31.6 percent), government/political/infrastructure (21.3 percent), crime and safety (14.4 percent), employment (9.8 percent), economy (9.8 percent), housing (4.4 percent), education (4.4 percent) and health care (1 percent). The remainder were listed under "other."
The poll continues to show that people are generally happy here, with 70 percent of respondents rating Summit County as an excellent or good place to live.
That's down from 74 percent from the previous year and the lowest percentage in 12 years of the poll. The percentage has been as low as 71 percent in 2008 and as high as 77 percent in 2010.
Barna said she wants to see if the percentage drops again in next year's poll or if this year is an outlier.
There also is a big disparity in how suburban residents feel compared to Akron residents. Eighty-two percent of suburbanites rate Summit County as a favorable place to live, while only 55 percent of Akron residents do.
The poll also showed:
• 69 percent believe that the county is headed in the right direction.
• 75 percent have a favorable opinion of the quality of health care services — tied for its lowest percentage in 12 years of the poll. The high was 83 percent in 2016.
• 37 percent have a positive impression about job opportunities — the highest percentage ever for the poll. Only 20 percent had a negative opinion, with the remainder being neutral.
• 45 percent have a favorable opinion of the local economy — the highest percentage ever. Only 13 percent had a negative impression.
• 37 percent said they are better off financially than they were a few years ago — the lowest percentage in five years. Twenty-five percent said they were worse off, while 38 percent reported they were the same.
The annual telephone poll of 800 residents was conducted between Jan. 22 and Feb. 22. It has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @armonrickABJ.