Date of Award


Degree Name



College of Liberal Arts

Type of Degree


Document Type


First Advisor

Kristi Fondren

Second Advisor

Frederick Roth

Third Advisor

Donna Sullivan


Illicit drugs and drug users have been criminalized and stigmatized in social life and in mass media for more than a century in the United States. Researchers have reasoned that media accounts have contributed to the social construction of drug use as deviant behavior. Depictions of drugs and drug users which utilize alarmist rhetoric have been prevalent in media discourse and have targeted allegedly disreputable populations. The ideology which underpins drug prohibition, punitive public attitudes, and media sensationalism has contributed to the tendency of American society to disallow alternative approaches. This study examines the contribution of televised news broadcasts in advancing particular narratives regarding heroin and cocaine. Informed by a social constructionist theoretical framework, as well as concepts of framing, agenda setting, and moral panics, a content analysis is employed to identify recurring themes and strategies promoted in network news reports focusing on heroin and cocaine from the year 2000 to 2013. Findings indicate predominant themes of law enforcement successes and challenges, international concerns and drug-related violence, concern about addiction, and the drug use or involvement of public figures. Reports largely promoted interdiction efforts and neglected policy analysis or alternatives to extant strategies. Implications of prevailing themes and policies are discussed.


Mass media.

Drugs--Social aspects.