Media Depictions of Drugs and their Influence on Federal Drug Policy

Faculty Fellow Giuliano Espino, a visiting lecturer of Political Science, is researching how media depictions of drugs influence federal drug policy. 

To do this, Espino said he is using a method called media content analysis in which he is able to observe how often a term appears in the archives of a media outlet. He added he is specifically using the New York Times for his research as it tends to be representative of the “media ecosystem.”

With the help of students through independent studies, data of drug coverage in the New York Times has been collected since 1960. 

Espino explained the project is a “continuation of a career worth of research.” The project draws from his dissertation as he is currently completing a Ph.D. program at Northeastern University where he also teaches. 

He and his research assistant, political science major Blake Carlson, are co-writing a paper that will be presented at the New England Political Association’s 2022 annual conference in April.

Following feedback from the conference, Espino and Carlson will make final edits to the paper and submit it for publication.

Espino said this paper is only the start and plans to complete a series of publications based on this topic. 

He said now that he has observed a relationship between press attention and changes to drug policy, he is starting to research the next question, “Do these references and attention around drugs actually map on to the reality of drug use?”

Espino explained there have been occasions when the media focuses on an issue that is not necessarily an issue and he is interested to know if the same case is happening with the media's coverage of drugs.

For research on drug use, Espino said he uses the “Monitoring the Future Survey” and “National Household Survey on Drug Abuse” databases which have collected data since the 1970s.

Espino said he plans to conduct multivariate regression analysis through statistical software, either SPSS or R, to study the relationship between these two variables. 

So far in his research, Espino said he has yet to see a relationship between media coverage and drug use.

He added, “I think part of this project is really showing that a lot of these narratives that led to the war on drugs that led to mass incarceration that led to what some scholars would call the ‘New Jim Crow’ with racially disproportionate outcomes - it was all based on a false narrative.”  

Espino said, “I think this is a perfect project for the political climate we're in and a lot of the social justice activities to which Framingham State has made a core mission over the past couple of years.”

Blake Carlson, political science major

Blake Carlson, a political science major, is the research assistant for Faculty Fellow Giuliano Espino’s digital humanities project on the relationship between media coverage and federal drug policy.

Carlson is also a goalie on the FSU Ice Hockey team and plans to apply to law school following his time at FSU.

Carlson and Espino are co-writing a paper that they will present together at the New England Political Science Association in April. 

“I've been excited about presenting the paper for a while,” Carlson said. “I don't know what it's going to bring, but I'm excited to get up and present in front of people.”

Carlson said he met Espino when he took his judicial policy class and joined a few other students in an independent study doing mostly data collection.

Over the course of the semester, Carlson said he took on a majority of the work for the project compared to the other students and would meet with Espino frequently, which encouraged him to take on more.

“I took on a little bit more of an in-depth role and started actually writing parts of the paper,” he said. 

The two will do a test run of their presentation for Espino’s judicial policy class, according to Carlson.

Espino has become a mentor and a friend to him, he said. 

Due to being close in age, Carlson said he has had an easier time connecting with Espino and developing their professional relationship, adding “because of that I've gotten a lot more information out of him and he's been a fantastic mentor to me.”

Carlson explained he feels comfortable asking in-depth questions about their research and feels he isn’t afraid to let Espino know when he is struggling with a task and he needs a bit of guidance.

 “Espino is a fantastic professor,” he said. “He's one if not the best professors I've had here at the school.”

 He added, “He’s always wanting to help me and give me words of encouragement.”