‘We are still obsessed by this idea of abstinence’: a critical analysis of UK news media representations of proposals to introduce drug consumption rooms in Glasgow, UK

A.M. Atkinson*, A. McAuley, K.M.A. Trayner, H.R. Sumnall

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Background: Drug consumptions rooms (DCRs) are a well-established and evidence-based harm reduction response to drug use. Recently, a consortium led by health services in Glasgow, United Kingdom (UK), proposed piloting a DCR. In this article, we examine how the proposals were represented in news media reporting, and the possible effects of such reporting.
Methods: A quantitative content and qualitative thematic analysis of UK news media (n = 174 articles) representations of the proposals to introduce DCRs in the city of Glasgow, UK, was conducted. Analysis was informed by Bacchi’s (2009, 2012, 2017) approach to policy analysis, ‘What's the problem represented to be?’
Findings: Competing representations of the ‘problem’ of injecting drug use (IDU) were contested by a range of actors with different political visions. The applicability of the ‘evidence base’, potential benefits of DCRs to both users and the public, and the associated economic costs, were presented in differing ways depending on the underlying assumptions and presumptions of the arguments constructed (e.g. harm reduction vs recovery). As a result, a number of conflicting subject positions were presented that may have implications for the way that people who inject drugs (PWID) see themselves, and how they are viewed and treated by society. Whilst proponents positioned DCRs within a discourse of public health, an underlying rhetoric of abstinence and recovery underpinned the arguments against DCRs. It was this latter discourse that underpinned the UK Government’s rejection of the proposals, which the Scottish Government were prevented from overruling within the political constraints of their devolved powers, with the lived effect of people who use drugs (PWUD) being denied access to public health services that mitigate harm.
Conclusion: We conclude that attempts to introduce and gain public and political support for harm reduction responses such as DCRs through the news media face challenges within the historical and political context of prohibitionist UK drugs policy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)62-74
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Drug Policy
Volume68
Early online date16 Apr 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2019

Keywords

  • drug consumption rooms
  • injection facilities
  • news media
  • agenda setting
  • policy making
  • harm reduction
  • problematization

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