Why Does the Media Let Scandal Trump Recovery?

Last updated on November 4th, 2019

There’s arguably been more coverage than ever before of the rising opioid abuse problem in the U.S. – and with good reason for it.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that opiate overdoses have more than quadrupled since 1999 – going from just 4,100 that year to a whopping 16,600 in 2010.

Unfortunately, that number has only continued to climb and the lives that are ruined in the process have evolved into great 6 o’clock news fodder.

The Not-So-Sensational Headlines

So much of the news coverage surrounding opioid abuse is centered far from the dire need for treatment. Instead, these stories are usually accompanied by sensationalized video of people being arrested for buying or selling painkillers, a “sizzle reel” of “shady” people standing around in the parking lot of a local pain clinic or an opinionated piece about the small percentage of doctors who are arrested for illegally prescribing these opiates.


That’s according to the new findings from a group of researchers out of John’s Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health – findings which were published in the journal Psychiatric Services.

Lead researcher Emma McGinty and her team looked at 673 TV and print news stories in major markets from 1998 to 2012. A whopping 64 percent of the stories they reviewed were about law enforcement arresting people for illegally buying, consuming or selling opioids. Just over 40 percent of the stories discussed prevention strategies for opioid addiction. And what’s even more disturbing, only three percent tackled the need for expanding treatment, while a sad one percent discussed harm reduction efforts.

“That surprised me,” admitted McGinty. “I really expected to see more of a shift to a public health and behavioral health approach to the issue.” However, she did note that news coverage surrounding prevention and treatment of opioid addiction occurred more frequently towards the end of the study period.

Washington and the Sobriety Movement

Perhaps the most encouraging sign of how opioid addiction is covered in the media is the fact that Barack Obama recently jumped into the fray. The President spoke on the subject last month and ordered healthcare providers to increase access to medication-assisted therapy (MAT).

President Obama also gave federal agencies with healthcare responsibilities 90 days to come up with ways to remove the known barriers to receiving MAT, noting in his order that “only a small minority of Americans who might benefit from this treatment are receiving it.”

With the opioid addiction crisis showing no signs of slowing, it’s time for the media to stop demonizing addicts and instead focus on the urgent need for treatment, in addition more chronicling the successes of the thousands who have successfully navigated the road to recovery.

Additional Reading: Gov’t Spending an Extra $100 Million on Drug Abuse
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