American Drug Story How Racialized Media Depictions of Drug Crises Shape Policy Agendas

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I explore the relationship between social constructions of target audiences and the impact of these constructions on policy outcomes in the context of two drug crises: the crack epidemic in

I explore the relationship between social constructions of target audiences and the impact of these constructions on policy outcomes in the context of two drug crises: the crack epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s and the opioid crisis that began in the first decade of the 2000s. Using a content analysis of media depictions of the drug users during each crisis, I find that racialized depictions of drug users are used to reinforce stereotypes of either deviant or dependent classifications of the target audience. These social constructions are combined in the media coverage with suggested policy frames appealing to the necessity criminal justice and/or public health approaches to policy agenda used to address the drug crisis. These frames and social constructions help explain the disparate policy approaches employed in both eras.