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‘Miracle cure’ or ‘liquid handcuffs’: Reporting on naltrexone and methadone in the Australian print media

Authors

  • Francis Matthew-Simmons,

    1. Drug Policy Modelling Program, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
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  • Alison Ritter

    Corresponding author
    1. Drug Policy Modelling Program, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
    • Correspondence to Prof Alison Ritter, Drug Policy Modelling Program, National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, NSW 2052, Australia. Tel: +02 9385 0236; Fax: 61 2 9385 0222; E-mail: alison.ritter@unsw.edu.au

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  • Francis Matthew-Simmons PhD, Research Fellow, Alison Ritter PhD, Professor.

Abstract

Introduction and Aims

The news media is an important source of information regarding new developments in medicine and public health interventions. Previous research has indicated that in many cases, reporting on new treatments can be inaccurate or sensationalist. This paper presents analysis of Australian print media reporting on two treatment options for heroin dependence (naltrexone and methadone). The aim of this study was to quantitatively compare the volume and content of Australian print media reporting on these two treatments, one of which had a long history of use in Australia, and the other which was comparatively newer.

Design and Methods

The study constituted a quantitative content analysis of a sample of 859 Australian newspaper articles, published over a 10-year period (1997–2007). Each article paragraph was coded for positive outcomes/benefits of treatment, as well as negative outcomes associated with treatment.

Results

The analysis revealed that during this period, the Australian print media was significantly more likely to report the potential positive outcomes of naltrexone treatment, compared with the negative outcomes. In contrast, reporting on methadone focused more on the negative outcomes and side effects.

Discussion and Conclusions

The relative frequency by which the benefits of naltrexone were mentioned in this sample of news content is somewhat at odds with the extant efficacy and effectiveness research evidence. The findings suggest that reporting on these treatments in the Australian print media has not been balanced. This type of reporting has potential implications for public attitudes, as well as policy decisions. [Matthew-Simmons F, Ritter A. ‘Miracle cure’ or ‘liquid handcuffs’: Reporting on naltrexone and methadone in the Australian print media. Drug Alcohol Rev 2014;33:506-514]

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