Effects of competing narratives on public perceptions of opioid pain reliever addiction during pregnancy

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Opioid pain reliever addiction has increased amongwomen of reproductive age over the last fifteen years. News media and public attention have focused on the implications of this trend for infants exposed to opioids prenatally, with state policy responses varying in the extent to which they are punitive or public health oriented.We fielded a six-group randomized experiment among a nationally representative sample ofUSadults to test the effects of narratives portraying awoman with opioid pain reliever addiction during pregnancy on beliefs about people addicted to opioid pain relievers, perceptions of treatment effectiveness, policy attitudes, and emotional responses. Portraying a high socioeconomic status (SES) woman in the narrative lowered perceptions of individual blame for addiction and reduced public support for punitive policies. Depicting the barriers to treatment faced by a low SES woman lowered support for punitive policies and increased support for expanded insurance coverage for treatment. The extent to which narratives portraying successfully treated addiction affected public attitudes depended on the SES of the woman portrayed. These findings can inform the development of communication strategies to reduce stigma toward this population, reduce support for punitive policies, and increase support for more public health-oriented approaches to addressing this problem.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)873-916
Number of pages44
JournalJournal of health politics, policy and law
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2016


  • Addiction
  • Message framing
  • Public opinion
  • Substance use disorders
  • Vulnerable populations
  • Women's health

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy


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