Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)



First Advisor

Maureen Carrigan

Second Advisor

Ed Callen

Third Advisor

Adam Pazda


Objective: Opioids, commonly used in hospitals and pain management centers for treating pain, are becoming increasingly abused. Prescription opioids and synthetic opioids are found frequently on the streets, highlighting the rampant spread of these drugs in the black market. Rates of opioid overdose have also dramatically increased in the past few years. Police departments have publicly posted photos of individuals who have overdosed on drugs in order to generate awareness of the issue to the community. Current research has not scientifically measured the impact of these social media campaigns designed to combat the opioid crisis. The present study used a between-subjects design to examine the effect of viewing opioid overdose photos on level of stigma, explicit bias, willingness to help, and support for drug-related policy items.

Method: Participants were randomly assigned to view overdose photos or non-overdose photos contained within an ostensible website created for the experiment. The participants then responded to measures asking about their attitudes about substance use.

Results: Results indicated that there was a lower willingness to help in participants who viewed opioid overdose images compared to those who viewed non-overdose images. The current study also demonstrated that level of contact with addiction was a significant predictor of stigma. Additionally, political affiliation strongly affected both stigma and support for policy items. Those who were more conservative had higher levels of stigma towards addicts and less support for policy items related to addiction.

Conclusions: The present study confirms that there are multiple factors playing a part in how individuals process viral opioid overdose photo. At the societal level, the results of this study have implications for deeper understanding of how social media and “scare tactic” photos truly affect the public. Important implications for future media campaigns and police tactics to combat the opioid crisis are discussed.