Families touched by fentanyl crisis say media has created stigma

Focus is too narrow to Downtown Eastside neighbourhood, leaves others behind


By Melbah Jacob and Chris Harcourt

Media coverage of the province’s toxic drug crisis has created stigma and focused too narrowly on residents of the Downtown Eastside, say B.C. residents who’ve lost loved ones.

And they say that drug users are still being portrayed as criminals or deviants, perpetuating negative stereotypes and stigmatizing those who are struggling with addiction.

The language the media uses to report drug deaths is important to people like Leslie McBain, co-founder of Mom’s Stop the Harm.

McBain lost her only son Jordan Miller to a drug overdose in 2014.

She says that overdoses aren’t the only way drug users are dying, mentioning “drug poisoning,” as well.

“When we hear anything on TV, or radio, CBC, Global, CTV…where they say, an opioid overdose, or a drug overdose, we phone up or we email them and say: `no, this is toxic drug poisoning.’ And so slowly, the language is changing,” McBain told the Voice.

Sensationalism is another concern when it comes to media coverage of the fentanyl crisis. The use of dramatic headlines and graphic images can shock and frighten viewers, but it can also be triggering for those who are struggling with addiction, McBain said.

It’s about more than the deaths

Journalists also need to focus on advancing solutions and documenting positive developments.

The families acknowledge that the media has played an essential role in bringing attention to the fentanyl crisis and advocating for change.

In the early days of the crisis, when many people were still unaware of the dangers of fentanyl, the media was instrumental in raising awareness and urging the government to take action.

Richmond News journalist Maria Rantanen, lost her son Michael last July 15 to a poison drug supply.

“I think we have to find a balance between telling the stories, but them not being sensationalized. It is not all about the Downtown Eastside. These are human beings. We should bring the humanity back to them. We are losing a lot of people who have a lot of potential,” Rantanen told the Voice.


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