The Kaiser survey found that the public's view of the severity of opioid abuse depended on what kind of opioid was being asked about.
While prescription painkillers and heroin are both members of the opioid family, heroin was viewed as a more serious problem, despite the fact that far fewer people die from heroin overdoses annually than do from prescription painkillers.
Thirty-five percent of respondents see heroin abuse as an "extremely serious" problem, the survey found. That compares to 28 percent of people who saw abuse of strong prescription painkillers an an "extremely serious" problem.
Just 19 percent of respondents viewed alcohol abuse as an extremely serious problem. The tally of alcohol-related fatalities in 2014 reached nearly 88,000, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Kaiser survey found that the public is not satisfied what how much federal and state governments are doing to fight abuse of both legal and illegal opioids.
A total of 66 percent of Americans said the federal government isn't doing enough to combat painkiller abuse, and 62 percent said it isn't doing enough on the heroin-fighting front.
And 67 percent said states aren't doing enough to stem painkiller abuse. Another 61 percent said the same about state governments fight against heroin abuse.
The survey found most Americans believe police are already doing enough to fight the epidemic. Just 37 percent said cops should be doing more to fight painkiller abuse. And 36 percent said police should be doing more to fight heroin abuse.
There was widespread support among Americans for various strategies that they think would be effective at reducing painkiller abuse. Those included: increasing pain management training, increased access to treatment programs, public education and awareness programs, more research about pain and pain management, and monitoring doctors' prescription habits.
A majority of people, 59 percent, were in favor of limiting the availability of drugs that can prevent fatal opioid overdoses only to people who have a prescription for those life-saving drugs. A handful of states have allowed those opioid medications, Narcan and Naloxone, to be sold to people without a prescription.
But 45 percent of people surveyed who have a personal experience with painkiller abuse favor allowing nonprescription sale of those life-saving drugs. Only 30 percent of people without such experience favor such a liberalized policy for those medications.