The Kids Are All White: Examining Race and Representation in News Media Coverage of Opioid Overdose Deaths in Canada [2019]

Problematic opioid use in Canada is on the rise, and opioid overdose deaths now number in the thousands each year. While opioids have long been responsible for overdoses among certain demographics of Canadians, such as drug users on Vancouver’s notoriously impoverished downtown Eastside, it is only recently that fatal overdoses have also claimed the lives of White, middle‐class young people. This critical discourse analysis of Canadian news media examines the differences in racial representation in recent coverage of opioid deaths. I pay particular attention to the ways in which White opioid users are portrayed as innocent victims while other users, such as those from Indigenous communities, are often ignored or stigmatized as “addicts.” I draw on the work of Hall (1978; 2000) and Reinarman and Levine (1989; 2004) on the role of media in representing race and constructing drug scares, to frame the media narratives. I then discuss the Canadian government’s current harm‐reduction approach to the opioid crisis, as well as calls from Indigenous leaders for “culture as treatment.”

Genevieve Johnston
Sociological Inquiry, 03 February 2019