Life-saving opioid addiction treatments get a negative slant
Researchers analyzing media coverage of medications that treat opioid addiction find inaccurate and negatively slanted coverage, especially in states with high mortality rates for overdose.
When the nation’s health is in peril, journalists play a vital role as reliable communicators of life-saving information. But when it comes to covering a public health emergency as complex and intractable as overdose deaths, a new study published in Health Affairs shows, journalists aren’t always reliable messengers.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Minnesota coded 300 news clips and broadcasts published between 2007 and 2016 for accurate and inaccurate messages about FDA-approved medications used to treat opioid use disorder: methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone. The sample comprises 171 local news clips from states that had high overdose mortality rates during the study’s time window, such as New Hampshire and Ohio, and 129 clips from national outlets such as the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, as well as broadcast transcripts ranging from PBS to Fox News.
Before diving into the study’s results, it’s important to review the science about the medications in question. Medications do a better job at keeping people engaged in treatment than traditional abstinence-based approaches that rely on group therapy, counseling, and the 12 Steps.
Most relevant to the current overdose emergency, methadone and buprenorphine, in particular, reduce one’s risk of fatal overdose by more than 50 percent. Both drugs are considered the “gold standard of care” in the scientific literature, and the World Health Organization lists them as “essential medicines.”
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