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Breaking the News, or Fueling the Epidemic? News Coverage of Opioid-Related Deaths Often Precede an Increase in Deaths, Study Finds
Date:11/18/2009

BOSTON, Nov. 18 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Increases in deaths from opioid drugs such as OxyContin may be linked to the volume of coverage such deaths receive in the news, according to a study from Children's Hospital Boston and the University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill. The study compared patterns of opioid deaths and patterns of news coverage between 1999 and 2005, during which time mortality rates from opioid abuse doubled. It found that spikes in media coverage often preceded an increase in deaths, suggesting that media coverage -- even when negative -- may have influenced opioid abuse.

Previous research indicates that in more than 16 states, there are more drug overdose deaths than deaths from firearms or motor vehicle accidents, and the bulk of these overdoses are from prescription opioids. "The question we had is whether the news media is providing perspective on what's happening, or whether the media is inadvertently fueling the problem by advertising the issue," says senior investigator John Brownstein, Ph.D., of the Children's Hospital Informatics Program (CHIP) and Children's Division of Emergency Medicine.

The paper, "Breaking the News or Fueling the Epidemic? Temporal association between news media report volume and opioid-related mortality," is published in PLoS One on November 18.

This is the first time research has quantitatively sought to assess the relationship between opioid abuse and the national news, according to Brownstein, although anecdotal information about a link between news reports and drug use date back to the 1950s, when amphetamine abuse was a common news topic.

Brownstein, Nabarun Dasgupta, MPH, of UNC and Kenneth Mandl, MD, MPH, of CHIP and Children's Division of Emergency Medicine consulted death records from the National Center for Health Statistics from 1999 to 2005, the
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SOURCE Children's Hospital Boston
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