The War on Drugs That Wasn’t: Wasted Whiteness, “Dirty Doctors,” and Race in Media Coverage of Prescription Opioid Misuse
- 7.5k Downloads
The past decade in the U.S. has been marked by a media fascination with the white prescription opioid cum heroin user. In this paper, we contrast media coverage of white non-medical opioid users with that of black and brown heroin users to show how divergent representations lead to different public and policy responses. A content analysis of 100 popular press articles from 2001 and 2011 in which half describe heroin users and half describe prescription opioid users revealed a consistent contrast between criminalized urban black and Latino heroin injectors with sympathetic portrayals of suburban white prescription opioid users. Media coverage of the suburban and rural opioid “epidemic” of the 2000s helped draw a symbolic, and then legal, distinction between (urban) heroin addiction and (suburban and rural) prescription opioid addiction that is reminiscent of the legal distinction between crack cocaine and powder cocaine of the 1980s and 1990s. This distinction reinforces the racialized deployment of the War on Drugs and is sustained by the lack of explicit discussion of race in the service of “color blind ideology.” We suggest potential correctives to these racially divergent patterns, in the form of socially responsible media practices and of clinical engagement with public policy.
KeywordsAddiction Whiteness Prescription opioids Media Heroin
We wish to acknowledge the crucial assistance of Alyson Kaplan, Danae DiRocco, Laura Duncan and Sewit Bereket with data analysis.
Support for this study was received from the Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Investigator Award (to Helena Hansen) and U.S. National Institutes of Health grant DA032674 (to Helena Hansen).
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The authors have no potential conflicts of interest to declare.
- ABC News 2010 The New Face of Heroin Addiction. October 30. http://abcnews.go.com/2020/video/face-heroin-addiction-12009941, accessed May 7, 2015.
- Acevedo, Andrea, Deborah Garnick, Robert Dunigan, Constance M. Horgan, Grant A. Ritter, Margeret T. Lee, Lee Panas, Kevin Campbell, Karin Haberlin, Dawn Lambert-Wacy, Tracy Leeper, Mark Reynolds, David Wright 2015 Performance Measures and Racial/Ethnic Disparities in the Treatment of Substance Use Disorders. Journal of Studies in Alcohol and Drugs 76(1):57–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Alcoff, Linda 2015. The Future of Whiteness. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
- Alexander, Michelle 2010 The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York: The New Press.Google Scholar
- Anderson, Elijah 2015 The White Space. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity 1(1):10–21.Google Scholar
- Bigg, Matthew 2007 Report says U.S. Jails More Blacks than Whites for Drugs. Reuters, December 4: http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/12/05/us-usa-drugs-race-idUSN0453686820071205, accessed May 7, 2015.
- Boeri, Miriam Williams, Liam Harbry, and David Gibson 2009 A Qualitative Exploration of Trajectories Among Suburban Users of Methamphetamine.” Journal of Ethnographic and Qualitative Research 3(3): 139.Google Scholar
- Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo 2003 Racism Without Racists: Color Blind Racism and Persistence of Racial Inequality in the U.S., Lanham, MD: Rowman Littlefield.Google Scholar
- Bourgois, Philippe and Jeffrey Schonberg 2009 Righteous Dopefiend. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
- Braun, Lundy 2014 Breathing Race into the Machine: The Surprising Career of the Spirometer from Plantation to Genetics. University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.Google Scholar
- Bryan, Bill 2001 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 14 are Facing Charges Tied to Trafficking of Heroin Here. Metro B2.Google Scholar
- Campbell, Nancy 2000 Using Women: Gender, Drug Policy, and Social Justice. Oxford: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
- Carroll, Linda 2014 Hooked: A Teacher’s Addiction and the New Face of Heroin. Today Health, http://www.today.com/health/hooked-teachers-addiction-new-face-heroin-2D79496263, accessed electronically May 7, 2015.
- Cartwright, David T. 1982 Dark Paradise: A History of Opiate Addiction in America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
- Chicago Daily Herald 2001 Look for ways to disrupt the drug flow on the West Side. p. 9.Google Scholar
- Courtwright, David 2001 Dark Paradise: A History of Opiate Addiction in America. Harvard University Press, Cambridge.Google Scholar
- Daniels, Jessie 2012 Intervention: Reality TV, whiteness, and narratives of addiction in Critical Perspectives on Addiction. J. Netherland (ed.), p.103-128. Emerald Group: Bingley, UK.Google Scholar
- Day, Bernie 2011 It Happened to a Kid Like Ian. Roanoke Times. http://www.roanoke.com/webmin/opinion/it-happened-to-a-bright-kid-like-ian/article_dbdb0437-c827-525f-9221-8d8f2731d5e3.html, accessed September 17, 2015.
- DEA N.d. 2013 National Take Back Initiative. http://www.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/drug_disposal/takeback/, accessed February, 18, 2013.
- DeGregory, Lane 2011 A Young Woman Struggles with Oxy Addiction and Recovery. Tampa Bay Times. http://www.tampabay.com/features/humaninterest/a-young-woman-struggles-with-oxy-addiction-and-recovery/1206405, accessed September 17, 2015.
- Elbow, Steven 2011 Crime and Courts: Heroin Deaths and Overdoses Already at Record Levels for the Year. The Cap Times. http://host.madison.com/news/local/crime_and_courts/blog/crime-and-courts-heroin-deaths-and-overdoses-already-at-record/article_d577cf74-e605-11e0-a3df-001cc4c03286.html, accessed September 17, 2015.
- Elliott, Bill 2011 How Pain Medication Can Lead to Abuse. Marinnij.com, http://www.marinij.com/ci_19257149, accessed September 17, 2015.
- Felner, Jamie 2009 Race, Drugs and Law Enforcement in the United States. Stanford Law Review 20(2):257–292.Google Scholar
- Garriott, William 2011 Policing methamphetamine: Narcopolitics in rural America. New York: NYU Press.Google Scholar
- Goode, Erica 2013 Incarceration Rates for Blacks Dropped, Report Shows. New York Times, February 27. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/28/us/incarceration-rates-for-blacks-dropped-report-shows.html, accessed September 17, 2015.
- Green, Carmen R., Karen O. Anderson, Tamara A. Baker, Lisa C. Campbell, Sheila Decker, Roger B. Fillingim, Donna A. Kaloukalani, Kathyrn E. Lasch, Cynthia Myers, Raymond C. Tait, Knox H. Todd, and April H. Vallerand 2003 The Unequal Burden of Pain: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Pain. Pain Medicine 4(3):277–294.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Hansen, Helena B., Carole E. Siegel, Brady G. Case, David N. Bertollo, Danae DiRocco, and Marc Galanter 2013 Variation in Use of Buprenorphine and Methadone Treatment by Racial, Ethnic and Income Characteristics of Residential Social Areas in New York City. Journal of Behavioral Health Services and Research 40(3):367–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Hanson, Carl L., Scott H. Burton, Christophe Giraud-Carrier, Josh H. West, Michael D. Barnes, and Bret Hansen. 2013. Tweaking and Tweeting: Exploring Twitter for Nonmedical Use of a Psychostimulant Drug (Adderall) Among College Students. Journal of medical Internet research, 15(4), p.e62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Lassiter, Matthew D. 2015 Impossible Criminals: The Suburban Imperatives of America’s War on Drugs. The Journal of American History, June: 126–140.Google Scholar
- Lee, Jonathan 2013 “The New Face of Drug Addiction” Fox News July 19. Accessed electronically May 7, 2015 http://fox40.com/2013/07/19/new-face-of-drug-addiction/.
- Lipsitz, George 2004 White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism, 2nd edition. Paula S Rothenberg, ed. Worth Publishers.Google Scholar
- London, Catherine 2011 Racial Impact Statements: A Proactive Approach to Addressing Racial Disparities in Prison Populations. 29 Law & Ineq. 211.Google Scholar
- Mauer, Marc 2009 Racial Impact Statements: Changing Policies to Address Disparities. Criminal Justice, 23(4):16.Google Scholar
- Mendoza, Sonia, Allyssa S. Rivera, and Helena B. Hansen In press Shifting Blame: Buprenorphine Prescribers, Addiction Treatment, and Prescription Monitoring in Middle-Class America. Transcultural Psychiatry.Google Scholar
- Messina, Lawrence 2011 Mingo Doctor Faces State Charges Acosta Allegedly Told Patients, ‘What are You Going to Do for Me?’ November 2, Charleston Gazette. News; Pg. P4D.Google Scholar
- Michels, Scott 2008 Heroin in Suburbia: the New Face of Addiction. ABC News, August 4. http://abcnews.go.com/TheLaw/Story?id=5494972&page=1, accessed September 17, 2015.
- Musto, David F. 1973 The American Disease: Origins of Narcotic Control. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- National Institute on Drug Abuse 2014 What is the Scope of Heroin Use in the United States? http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/scope-heroin-use-in-united-states, accessed September 17, 2015.
- Netherland, J., and H. Hansen 2016 White Opioids: Pharmaceutical Race and the War on Drugs that Wasn’t. BioSocieties. doi: 10.1057/biosoc.2015.
- Nowatzki, Mike and Sam Benshoof 2011 F-M Police to Zero in on Heroin as Area Sees Rash of Cases. December 4, InForum: the forum of Fargo-Moorhead. https://secure.forumcomm.com/?publisher_ID=1&article_id=342824, accessed September 17, 2015.
- Ostrow, Joanne 2001 Heroin’s Harsh Reality. Denver Post http://extras.denverpost.com/scene/ost102.htm, accessed September 17, 2015.
- Peffley, M., T. Shields, and B. Williams 1996 The Intersection of Race and Crime in Television News Stories: An Experimental Study. Political Communication 13(3): 309–328.Google Scholar
- Pittsburg Post-Gazette 2011 Addiction’s toll: The Scourge of Heroin Strikes too Close to Home. July 31. http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/editorials/2011/07/31/Addiction-s-toll-The-scourge-of-heroin-strikes-too-close-to-home/stories/201107310204, accessed September 17, 2015.
- Poltilove, Josh 2011 Julie Schenecker’s Attorney: Dad Should Never Have left Kids with Her. December 5, Tampa Tribune. http://tbo.com/news/crime/julie-scheneckers-attorney-dad-should-never-have-left-kids-with-her-331297, accessed September 17, 2015.
- Pruitt, Lisa 2015 Who’s Afraid of White Class Migrants? On Denial, Discrediting, and Disdain (and Toward a Richer Conception of Diversity). Columbia Journal of Gender and Law, 31(284):227.Google Scholar
- Raver, Diane 2011 Heroin death: ‘She Thought it Would be Fun’. March 25, Batesville Herald-Tribune. http://www.batesvilleheraldtribune.com/news/local_news/heroin-death-she-thought-it-would-be-fun/article_26ca9e08-158e-5cb2-b1cc-560d7fea10f5.html, accessed September 17, 2015.
- Reeves, Scott, Ayelet Kuper, and Brian David Hodges 2008 Qualitative Research Methodologies: Ethnography. British Medical Journal, 337:512–514.Google Scholar
- Reinarman, Craig 1994 The Social Construction of Drug Scares in Constructions of Deviance: Social Power, Context, and lnteraction Adler & Adler, eds. Wadsworth Publishing Co.Google Scholar
- Reinarman, C., and H.G. Levine 2004 Crack in the Rear-View Mirror: Deconstructing Drug War Mythology. Social Justice 31(1-2): 182–199.Google Scholar
- Roberts, Dorothy 2011 Fatal Invention: How Science, Politics, and Big Business Re-Create Race in the Twenty-First Century. New York: New Press.Google Scholar
- Schiavone, Christian 2011 Weymouth, Quincy and Brockton to Hold Vigils in Memory of Overdose Victims. July 27, Patriot Ledger. http://www.patriotledger.com/article/20110727/News/307279370, accessed September 17, 2015.
- Schwartz, Yardena 2012 Painkiller Use Breeds New Face of Heroin Addiction. NBC News June 19. http://dailynightly.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/06/19/12303942-painkiller-use-breeds- new-face-of-heroin-addiction?lite, accessed February 13, 2013.
- Scotti, Roseanne and Steven Kronenberg 2001 Symposium: U.S. drug laws: the New Jim Crow?: foreword. Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review 10:303–310.Google Scholar
- Seelye, Katherine Q. 2013 Heroin in New England, more abundant and more deadly. New York Times July 19, A11.Google Scholar
- Singer, Merrill 2008 Drugging the Poor: Legal and Illegal Drug Industries and the Structuring of Social Inequality. Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press.Google Scholar
- Solinger, Rickie 2013 Wake Up Little Susie: Single Pregnancy and Race Before Roe v. Wade (Kindle Locations 5990-5991). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.Google Scholar
- Steiner, Benjamin D., and Victor Argothy 2001 White Addiction: Racial Inequality, Racial Ideology, and the War on Drugs. Temple Political & Civil Rights Law Review 10:443–475.Google Scholar
- Strauss, Anselm, and Juliet Corbin 1997 Grounded Theory in Practice. New York: Sage.Google Scholar
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 2010 Results from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Volume I. Summary of National Findings. Rockville: Office of Applied Studies.Google Scholar
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration 2014 Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Summary of National Findings, NSDUH Series H-48, HHS Publication No. (SMA) 14-4863. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.Google Scholar
- Sullivan, Caryn 2011 Prescription Drugs: Lock Your Cabinets, and Know the Risks. May 27, St. Paul Pioneer Press. http://www.carynsullivanscribe.com/prescription-drugs-lock-your-cabinets-and-know-the-risks/, accessed September 17, 2015.
- Talbot, Margaret 2009 Brain Gain: the Underground World of ‘Neuroenhancing’ Drugs. The New Yorker April 27, http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/04/27/brain-gain.
- Taylor, S. 2008 Outside the Outsiders: Media Representation of Drug Use. Probation Journal 55(4): 369–387.Google Scholar
- Tunnell, Kenneth 2004. Cultural constructions of the hillbilly heroin and crime problem pp. 133–142 in Ferrell, Jeff, Keith Hayward, Wayne Morrison, and Mike Presdee, eds. Cultural criminology unleashed. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Tunnell, Kenneth 2005 The OxyContin Epidemic and Crime Panic in Rural Kentucky. Contemporary Drug Problems 32.2: 225–258.Google Scholar
- U.S. Census Bureau 2009 Law Enforcement, Courts, & Prisons: Arrests. Available at http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/law_enforcement_courts_prisons/arrests.html, accessed February 18, 2013.
- U.S. Congress 2010 Secure and Responsible Drug Disposal Act. One Hundred Eleventh Congress of the United States of America.Google Scholar
- Warsmith, S. 2001 2 Akron Teens die; Drug Use Suspected Initial Evidence Points to Accidental Overdose of North High Seniors. May 30, Akron Beacon Journal.Google Scholar
- Williams, Edward Huntington 1914 Negro Cocaine ‘Fiends’ Are a New Southern Menace. New York Times, Magazine Section, Page SM12.Google Scholar