JOURNAL ARTICLE

A text-mining analysis of the public's reactions to the opioid crisis

Elizabeth M Glowacki, Joseph B Glowacki, Gary B Wilcox
Substance Abuse 2017 July 19, : 1-5
28723265

BACKGROUND: Opioid abuse has become an epidemic in the United States. On August 25, 2016, the former Surgeon General of the United States sent an open letter to care providers asking for their help with combatting this growing health crisis. Social media forums such as Twitter allow for open discussions among the public and up-to-date exchanges of information about timely topics such as opioids. Therefore, the goal of the current study is to identify the public's reactions to the opioid epidemic by identifying the most popular topics tweeted by users.

METHODS: A text miner, algorithmic-driven statistical program was used to capture 73,235 original tweets and retweets posted within a 2-month time span 15 (August 15, 2016, through October 15, 2016). All tweets contained references to "opioids," "turnthetide," or similar keywords. The sets of tweets were then analyzed to identify the most prevalent topics.

RESULTS: The most discussed topics had to do with public figures addressing opioid abuse, creating better treatment options for teen addicts, using marijuana as an alternative for managing pain, holding foreign and domestic drug makers accountable for the epidemic, promoting the "Rx for Change" campaign, addressing double standards in the perceptions and treatment of black and white opioid users, and advertising opioid recovery programs.

CONCLUSIONS: Twitter allows users to find current information, voice their concerns, and share calls for action in response to the opioid epidemic. Monitoring the conversations about opioids that are taking place on social media forums such as Twitter can help public health officials and care providers better understand how the public is responding to this health crisis.

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