Stereotyping and the Opioid Epidemic: A Conjoint Analysis

Social Science and Medicine

Political attention and media coverage concerning rising rates of opioidaddiction and opioid-involved deaths in the United States have been critiqued for focusing almost exclusively on trends among whites. It remains unclear, however, if this “white-washing” of the opioid crisis has coincided with a shift in Americans' stereotypes about who abuses opioids. Understanding these stereotypes is important because they can create or uphold larger structural barriers by impacting the ability of certain groups to access appropriate treatment, influencing public support for various policies, and shaping interactions with law enforcement officials. Utilizing a conjoint survey experiment (n = 3670), we examined the independent effects of a person's race, occupation, gender, age, and region on the probability they would be seen as more likely than another individual to abuse opioids. We found that the probability of being identified as likely to abuse opioids is highest when a profile describes an individual as white or unemployed. This study offers the first systematic, experimental analysis of the independent contributions of various traits to the perception that someone is likely to abuse opioids.