Online news reports from February 2018 to April 2019 on opioid-related events in the United States were extracted from Google News. News data were aggregated at the county level and compared against opioid-related death counts. Ordinary least squares regression was used to model opioid-related death rate and opioid news coverage with the inclusion of socioeconomic and geographic explanatory variables.
Our results suggest that regional variation in the volume of opioid-related news reporting does not reflect regional variation in opioid-related death rate. Differences in the amount of media attention may influence perceptions of the severity of opioid epidemic. Future studies should investigate the influence of media reporting on public support and action on opioid issues.
News media coverage is a powerful influence on public attitude and government action. The digitization of news media covering the current opioid epidemic has changed the landscape of coverage and may have implications for how to effectively respond to the opioid crisis.
This study aims to characterize the relationship between volume of online opioid news reporting and opioid-related deaths in the United States and how these measures differ across geographic and socioeconomic county-level factors.
A total of 35,758 relevant news reports were collected representing 1789 counties. Regression analysis revealed that opioid-related death rate was positively associated with news reporting. However, opioid-related death rate and news reporting volume showed opposite correlations with educational attainment and rurality. When controlling for variation in death rate, counties in the Northeast were overrepresented by news coverage.