Illicit drugs and the media: Models of media effects for use in drug policy research

Kari Lancaster, Caitlin E. Hughes, Bridget Spicer, Francis Matthew-Simmons, Paul Dillon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Issues. Illicit drugs are never far from the media gaze and although identified almost a decade ago as 'a new battleground' for the alcohol and other drug (AOD) field there has been limited research examining the role of the news media and its effects on audiences and policy. Approach. This paper draws together media theories from communication literature to examine media functions. We illustrate how each function is relevant for media and drugs research by drawing upon the existing literature examining Australian media coverage during the late 1990s of escalating heroin-related problems and proposed solutions. Key Findings. Media can influence audiences in four key ways: by setting the agenda and defining public interest; framing issues through selection and salience; indirectly shaping individual and community attitudes towards risk; and feeding into political debate and decision making. Each has relevance for the AOD field. For example, media coverage of the escalating heroin-related problems in Australia played a strong role in generating interest in heroin overdoses, framing public discourse in terms of a health and/or criminal issue and affecting political decisions. Implications and Conclusion. Media coverage in relation to illicit drugs can have multifarious effects. Incorporating media communication theories into future research and actions is critical to facilitate understanding of the short- and long-term impacts of media coverage on illicit drugs and the avenues by which the AOD field can mitigate or inform future media debates on illicit drugs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-402
Number of pages6
JournalDrug and Alcohol Review
Issue number4
Early online date6 Sep 2010
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Agenda setting
  • Framing
  • Illicit drug
  • Media effect
  • Policy


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