The neoliberal governance of heroin and opioid users in Philadelphia city

Philip R. Kavanaugh, Jennifer L. Schally

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Drawing on 147 news accounts and five policy documents on the heroin and opioid crisis in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania published between 2016 and 2018, our analysis highlights how media portrayals of opioid users as both tragic victims and public nuisance prompted a schizoid governmental response that draws on rhetorics of treatment and harm reduction to legitimate more punitive interventions. By describing how the state’s quasi-medical responsibilization strategy devolved to fold criminalization into its broader response, we argue the effort to wage a kinder/gentler war on overdose invests in familiar tropes of a recalcitrant drug user class that is a threat to public health. In doing so we provide a basis to critique how drug users are governed in this time of fiscal austerity, resource hoarding, and perpetual, continually evolving drug crises.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)126-144
Number of pages19
JournalCrime, Media, Culture
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • Communication
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Law


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