Framing shapes public opinion about certain issues through the media but recent efforts to address juvenile prescription drug abuse has demonstrated another role it can play: setting public agenda and affecting priorities in government. Prescription drug abuse and overdoses among teens has increased in the past decade and few people took notice until Attorney General Roy Cooper spoke to at a widely-reported meeting of health professionals and described North Carolina’s problem with prescription drug abuse as an “epidemic” (NC Medical Society 2012). He illustrated a grim picture by saying that prescription drug overdoses has eclipsed car accidents in the nation’s number one cause of accidental death (McDonald 2012). Cooper told the doctors and reporters in the meeting that three people per day die in North Carolina from prescription drug overdose (McDonald 2012).
Thus a previously unknown issue was catapulted to the forefront of the policy agenda, with the public demanding significant new programs to save our state’s children. The use of the word “epidemic” was dramatic enough to mobilize parents throughout the state to lobby their representatives and get active in improving the outlook of the state’s children. Funds are allocated much easier in government when voters care about the issue because politicians gain popularity among their constituents for addressing a problem they deem significant. Cooper put fear in the hearts of parents, doctors and educators across NC, resulting in overwhelming support for all policies he sought to enact to rectify this problem. By framing the issue as one that puts any family or child at risk of danger and illustrating the problem with grisly and surprising numbers, Cooper made this issue the most important one in the state.
With support from the public and funds from the state, Cooper was able to enact several policies that target prevention of prescription drug abuse. Patients are now required by law to present photo ID when picking up prescriptions for medicines with a high recreational value or addictive characteristics. Another program put in place is Operation Medicine Drop, which allows citizens to safely dispose of old prescriptions so children won’t have access to them. Cooper’s office has sponsored an annual video competition for high school students, warning their peers of the dangers of prescription drug abuse.
Since its creation, Operation Medical Drop has collected more than 22 million pills (NC DOJ 2013). Cooper encourages this participation by continuing to frame the issue as a potential danger to families and children.
“People are learning more about the dangers of misusing prescription drugs, and they’re protecting their families by bringing unused drugs to events like these,” Cooper said (McDonald 2012). High school students’ videos in the Stop Rx Abuse campaign are inspiring and contest applicant numbers continue to rise (NC DOJ 2013). A 2013 report by Trust for America’s health found that North Carolina received eight out of 10 possible indicators of promising strategies to help curb prescription drug abuse (Lang 2013).
Positioning himself for a gubernatorial campaign in the coming years, Cooper identified a problem, used dramatic framing in public to gain awareness and support and effectively changed policy to target this problem. This is surely a success that Cooper will highlight in his 2016 run for governor and he will continue to use the strategies of framing to define the public agenda that will be the backdrop of the campaign.
Bulletin Staff. “Attorney General Roy Cooper Speaks About Increase of Prescription Drug Abuse.” Doctor to Doctor. NC Medical Society, 31 Oct. 2012. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. <http://www.ncmedsoc.org/blog/index.php/archives/22593>.
Lang, Albert. “Drug Abuse 2013 Data for North Carolina.” Drug Abuse 2013 Data for North Carolina. Trust for America’s Health, 7 Oct. 2013. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. <http://healthyamericans.org/reports/drugabuse2013/release.php?stateid=NC>.
McDonald, Thomas. “NewsObserver.com.” Cooper Says Prescription Drug Abuse Now Epidemic. News & Observer, 26 Oct. 2012. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. <http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/10/26/2440952/cooper-says-prescription-drug.html>.
“Prescription Drug Abuse.” Prescription Drug Abuse: Operation Medicine Drop and Stop Rx Abuse. NC Department of Justice, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013. <http://www.ncdoj.gov/Top-Issues/Fighting-Crime/Precription-Drug-Abuse.aspx>.