Meth Epidemic in Rural Tennessee: Construction of a Social Problem
Date of Award
Master of Arts
Suzanne B. Kurth
James A. Black, Sharon Husch
Social constructionists argue that what problems are recognized as social problems in a society reflect the efforts of various individuals and organizations to frame particular issues as deserving of public attention and action. Illegal drugs (heroin, LSD, crack cocaine) repeatedly have been identified as social problems harming innocent victims (e.g., crack babies) and leading to various forms of criminal activity. The focus of this project is how media, specifically newspaper coverage, rose as claims makers identified methamphetamine (meth) production as a serious problem in rural areas of the southeast. Although the drug had been available under various names for decades, its definition as a problem requiring passage of new laws and the allocation of government resources can be linked to claims that operators of meth labs in rural areas were harming children, homes, the environment, and themselves. The southeast and particularly Tennessee were identified as having substantial rural areas where meth labs could be easily concealed. Using electronic data banks newspapers in the four largest cities in Tennessee (Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga) and one city in a more rural area (Clarksville), from 1990 to 2005 (for the earliest date accessible) that included the terms meth or methamphetamine were content analyzed. For each available year in the study time period the number of articles and the number of words in each story were recorded to establish trend data. At the beginning of the period few stories appeared. The number of stories dramatically increased in each newspaper between 2002 and 2003 or 2003 and 2004. One newspaper was selected to examine the typical location of stories, i.e., section placement. A key word analysis indicated that the primary claims makers were successful in that the media focused on the rural lab aspects of the meth story and gave limited play to the Mexican connection and drug usage in the gay community.
Langley, Brian Harold, "Meth Epidemic in Rural Tennessee: Construction of a Social Problem. " Master's Thesis, University of Tennessee, 2007.