Drugs and the Media

Harnessing the power of the media to help prevent substance use and reduce addiction stigma

Speakers CND event

Some of the speakers at the CND side event on drugs and the media, from left: Lucía Goberna (Institutional Relations, Dianova), Rebecca Jesseman (CCSA), Kenneth Arctander (Director of Communications, RIO), Stephanie Nairn (coordinator and researcher at the Sainte-Justine Mother and Child Hospital, Montreal) and Kristina Stankova (Research Assistant, Dianova) – photo: Dianova, CC

Last year, Dianova International launched the campaign “End Stigma Now” and we identified the communications media as being one of society’s actors which created and perpetuated the most stigma towards people with drug use disorders. We published a series of recommendations alongside the campaign, to end stigma by the communications media, the health services and in the workplace.

This year, we want to delve deeper into the role the communications media plays in the field of drugs, and we would like to turn it on its head and attack it from the perspective of how we can really harness the power of the communications media to promote healthy lifestyles, prevent the consumption of drugs, defend the right to health, and reduce stigma towards people who use drugs.

In the 63rd session of the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs, Dianova published one of the only six statements written by civil society organizations entitled “Call on Greater Coordination to Harness the Power of the Communications Media” (also available on the UNODC website). This report has been included as part of the official documentation of the United Nations session.

Moreover, on 4 March 2020, we organised a side event on the margins of the 63rd session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs entitled, “The Media, a Key Actor in the Field of Drugs”. The event was organised by Dianova International and co-sponsored by the Government of Canada, the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA), the Norwegian Interest Organization for Substance Misusers, RIO, the Proyecto Hombre Association in Spain and the Turkish Green Crescent Society in Turkey. The event was attended by some 60 people, who actively participated when the floor was opened to questions.


Rebecca also referred to the importance of being proactive when working in this area and presented the CCSA publication on “Overcoming Stigma Through Language”, which is a very useful resource as well as introducing the #StigmaEndsWithMe campaign.

Second, Kenneth Arctander from the RIO organisation (associate member of Dianova) presented the current situation in Norway. The country is currently engaged in a proposal for reforming drug policy, which seeks to decriminalise the consumption and possession of all substances for personal use. As the issue is currently a hot topic in Norway, Kenneth gave examples of how some communications media have published articles containing very pejorative language with regard to people who use drugs as well as how RIO has acted to dismantle the negative social perceptions and present the problem from a more human perspective.

Third, Stephanie Nairn, Post-doctoral Research Fellow, Sainte-Justine Research Center & PhD Candidate, Sociology and Social Studies of Medicine, McGill University (Montreal, Canada), addressed youth perceptions of opioids in contemporary media. In the presentation, Stephanie presented the preliminary results from the “Emerging Health Threat” project, which aims to identify strategies for promoting the prevention and early intervention in young people at risk of using opioids. The preliminary results of the study suggest that young people do not identify with media representations of opioids and their consumption (ranging from a medical, creative or addictive use). For this reason, in some cases, they create their own content. It will be crucial to involve young people in prevention and intervention actions in order for them to be effective.

Finally, Kristina Stankova, Research Assistant at Dianova International, presented the threats and opportunities represented by social networks and alternative media. She focused on topics including the dissemination of misinformation, the role of famous people on social media who promote unhealthy lifestyles, and the influence of misleading advertising on social media. Finally, Kristina identified some ways in which the power of these communications media could be harnessed to, for example, reach more people, mobilise support, manage dangerous content, or promote research.

At Dianova, we want to thank our partner organisations in the event and also its speakers for opening this topic up for debate within the framework of the United Nations,  by bringing different perspectives, and above all, by calling for proactive action to  harness the potential of the media to make a positive impact in this area.