Department of Conflict Resolution Studies Theses and Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences – Department of Conflict Resolution Studies

First Advisor

Dustin D. Berna

Second Advisor

Ismael Muvingi

Third Advisor

Elena Bastidas


content analysis, mass media, media, opioid crisis


This study examined the systematic shift in the decades-old ‘war on drugs’ from its roots in criminality to what is now viewed as a public health crisis due in part to the media framing of the crisis and perhaps, more importantly, a shift in the socioeconomic status of current drug users. This research utilized a qualitative content analysis approach to examine print news media articles from the top producers of print news in the United States. Through a content analysis methodology, these articles were examined, and several patterns emerged, and the themes explored further. Some of the more critical themes emerging from the data analysis were epidemic, crisis, substance abuse disorder (SUD), opioids, disease, prescription drugs, victim(s), and accidental overdose and treatment.

The results demonstrate a shift from a model where illegal drugs and the abuse of these drugs has transitioned from one in which was addressed within the criminal justice system to one which has now demanded treatment and compassion toward those engaging in this activity. Whether viewed as a disease, mental disorder, or other reasons, the shift from the incarceration and demonization of drug users appears to have changed to one of a public health crisis. The study examined both the good and bad with this societal change and found that these changes were not always beneficial and often based on media infused hyperbole and misinformation.

While this study examined certain perspectives of drugs and incarceration, it found that race alone was not the sole factor in either drug use or incarceration rates. This study emphasizes the role that socioeconomic status has in this shift and underscores the need for future research in examining the long-term impact of this shift on both the individual and the criminal justice system.