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Papers of the Week

Papers: 13 Jan 2024 - 19 Jan 2024

2024 Jan 12

Health Commun


Framing Chronic Pain in U.S. News Coverage of the Opioid Epidemic (2012-2022).


Gunning JN, Romann LR, Hintz EA


Chronic pain, pain persisting longer than six months, afflicts 20% of the U.S. population and is the leading cause of disability. To manage pain, many chronic pain patients (CPPs) and healthcare providers turn to opioids, prescription medications that block pain signals and offer relief. However, in light of the U.S.’ ongoing opioid epidemic, CPPs without a history of opioid use disorder (OUD) are facing increased stigma when seeking opioid medication. Further, many have been forced to taper their therapeutic dose due to updated Centers for Disease Control and Prevention prescribing guidelines in 2016 and 2022, with a range of (adverse) outcomes. Though research has explored experiences of chronic pain and OUD independently, few studies have explored how media coverage of the opioid epidemic has shaped representations, and resulting stereotypes, of CPPs. Guided by framing theory, this content analysis examines sources’ characterization of CPPs amidst a decade of U.S. news coverage of the opioid epidemic ( = 492). Findings identify four dominant news frames, including two novel frames termed and , and elements (i.e., characters, significant events) that comprise these frames. When discussed, CPPs were ascribed the identity of a drug-seeking addict 82% of the time. Collectively, this study provides insight as to how news media coverage of the opioid epidemic influence(d) public perceptions of chronic pain (patients). Findings offer theoretical and practical implications for media outlets, policymakers, CPPs and healthcare providers, as well as highlighting how use of opioids for pain management does not equate to abuse of opioids.