Presenting author: Allison Schlosser
Presenting author biography:
Allison Schlosser is a medical anthropologist who uses qualitative methods to study drug use cross-culturally. She examines cultural constructions of “addiction,” moral politics of interventions, and inequalities in access to and quality of services. Her current work examines harm reduction in the COVID-19 pandemic and for people who use stimulants.
#NarcanSavesLives: Strength and Solidarity in Youth Digital Activism in an Overdose Crisis
Allison Schlosser, Ciera Kirkpatrick, Kelli Boling, Patrick Habecker, Jessica Hample, Roma Subramanian, Valerie Jones
Opioid-related overdose death continues to be a public health crisis in the United States (U.S.), reaching a new peak in 2021 with more than 100,000 people dying of drug overdose; 75% of these deaths involved an opioid. Naloxone, often distributed in the form of Narcan® nasal spray, can be easily administered to prevent opioid overdose death. Yet this potentially lifesaving tool has generated controversy as it challenges the longstanding moral value of abstinence from drug use in U.S. culture. Critics have framed Narcan as a “moral hazard” that encourages drug use, stigmatizing its distribution and use. Social media platforms such as TikTok have become key sites for such debates. These are digital social spaces in which individuals may fuel stigma or build solidarity with others by enacting identities, sharing knowledge, and bonding over common experiences. TikTok has become an especially active space for digital activism among young people who aim to spread awareness about the potential for Narcan to save lives. This presentation examines how TikTok digital activists share knowledge about Narcan and use public testimony of their experiences with drug use and opioid overdose reversal to enact solidarity with people who use drugs. We draw on thematic analyses of the highest-engaging TikTok posts that are tagged with #narcansaveslives or #naloxonesaveslives and semi-structured, open-ended interviews with 20 social media influencers who frequently post on TikTok using these hashtags. Combining analyses of posts and interview narratives, we explore how digital activists (re)construct the meaning of Narcan in relation to dominant narratives that stigmatize it. We also explore structural inequalities in digital activism by examining demographic patterns in who is represented (or not) in these digital social spaces. Finally, we consider the implications of our findings for harm reduction efforts to build solidarity with people who use drugs through digital activism.