AbstractIllicit drug abuse remains a serious problem in the United States. While contemporary U.S. drug policies emphasize a prohibitionist “War on Drugs,” other countries have embraced public health based harm reduction. Whereas the current U.S. policy aims to eliminate drug use, harm reduction seeks to reduce its inevitable consequences, revealing an important ideological tension. Newsprint media depictions of drugs influence public opinion, discourse, and policy, particularly surrounding harm reduction programs and services. Combining textual discourse and qualitative content analyses, this study explores and describes discursive use of the term “harm reduction” with illicit drugs in a sample of 296 U.S. newspaper pieces published between 1990 and 2012. Typically describing harm reduction and “Drug War” strategies as incompatible, harm reduction supporters advocated a range of policy changes, whereas opponents described harm reduction as something to be avoided given the danger of drugs. A discourse theory framework situates the debate over harm reduction as tension in the U.S. drug policy hegemony, and considers domestic and international politic dynamics, and beliefs regarding the nature of substance use, addiction, and recovery.
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