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Opioid Addiction, Public Stigma, and its Association with Race, Social Class, and Political Orientation
AuthorRagsdale, James Michael
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Opioid addiction has become a national public health crisis in the United States. From 1999 to 2018, more than 232,000 people have died from prescription opioids and more than 450,000 have died from all opioids. The stigma associated with opioid addiction has negative consequences for individual’s mental and physical health. Stigma around opioid addiction can prevent persons with opioid use disorder from seeking professional help. Public opinion can also negatively impact life conditions for individuals with an opioid addiction because it has the power to enact either public health or punitive policies. Drug addiction generally is highly stigmatized, more so than other mental or physical health disorders. Public attitudes towards people addicted to opioids may also vary by the attributions one makes about the causes of opioid addiction and by sociodemographic characteristics of the observer and the observed. Using a 2x2x2 between subjects factorial experimental design, this research explored how the race, social class, and source of opioids of a fictive vignette character affect people’s attitudes. This research also aimed to explore how people’s political orientation and social class affect their attitudes towards people addicted to opioids. Lastly, this research investigated how attributions affect stigmatizing attitudes and if the associations between attributions and stigma are moderated by political orientation of the participants. The results suggest that opioid users in the working class vs. the middle class, and who obtain opioids illegally vs. from a physician face greater stigmatization for opioid addiction. The results of this study also consistently imply that attitudes towards drug addiction and drug addiction policy vary by political orientation with conservatives reporting the most negative attitudes towards opioid users and the least amount of support for them, which may reflect broader and expanding trends in political polarization. Bad character attributions only partially mediated this relationship and biological attributions lessened blame, but did not reduce stigma. Finally, the contextual attribution to being laid-off reduced stigmatizing attitudes.