Home > Monitoring youth media for emerging drug-use trends.

Pike, Brigid (2005) Monitoring youth media for emerging drug-use trends. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 15, Autumn 2005, p. 2.

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 Because of the hidden nature of illegal drug use, a time lag usually exists between the appearance of a new trend in illegal drug use and the production and dissemination of data about it. For example, the first published accounts of ecstasy use appeared in articles written in 1985 by journalists – a decade before drug information agencies began collecting and reporting data on ecstasy.

In such circumstances, youth media have been identified as a potentially valuable source for monitoring emerging drug use trends among young people. To coincide with International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published a thematic paper, Youth Media, on its website, which reports on a study that tested the utility and validity of youth media for this purpose.

Five EU member states – Finland, Greece, Ireland, Portugal and the UK – collaborated in a voluntary EMCDDA project, in which a total of 1,763 drug references from 26 print magazines with large circulations targeting mainstream young people (aged 15–30 years) in the five countries were collected between December 2001 and September 2002. Deborah Olszewski of the EMCDDA led the project and the research into Irish youth media was undertaken by DMRD staff member Brigid Pike and student researcher Sandra Leibrand.

The magazines were scanned for textual and visual drug references. These references were coded and analysed using quantitative methods, together with selected descriptive texts to validate the coding and to deepen understanding. The editors of the magazines were interviewed about editorial practices regarding the coverage of drugs issues. The six UK and Irish youth magazines surveyed in the study accounted for 61 per cent of the drug references.

The study concludes that youth lifestyle magazines, which target readers with young ‘outgoing’ lifestyles who are interested in new trends and do not condemn drug use as a matter of principle, are a useful source for monitoring and triangulating evidence of signs of early use of new drugs. According to the study, youth media monitoring is, moreover,a low-cost source of information as the content analysis workload can be flexible and carried out when researcher time allows.

Overall, the three drugs most frequently mentioned in the print media surveyed were cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine, with 10 per cent of drug mentions referring to combinations with alcohol. This reflects the findings of epidemiological surveys, which generally report relatively high prevalence estimates of the use of cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine. Drugs that are less commonly used (heroin, crack) were mentioned less often.

The study also shows that youth media can contribute to a deeper understanding of the nature of emerging drug-use trends. Youth magazines are more likely than mainstream magazines to cover both the risks and benefits of cannabis and ecstasy use. In contrast, they adopt a more proscriptive approach to heroin and crack – focusing exclusively on negative aspects in a broadly similar way to mainstream newspapers and magazines.Furthermore, the drug references that carry messages about drugs and drug use give more or less equal coverage to the positive and negative aspects. The positive aspects of drug use most frequently mentioned were the psychological and relaxant effects, followed by increased physical energy. On the negative side, the acute physical risks of drug use, addiction and psychological problems were mentioned more often than other risks. Ecstasy was the drug most often mentioned in relation to acute physical risk. Cannabis was the drug most often mentioned in relation to psychological risk, closely followed by alcohol and cocaine.

The study discusses a number of issues to be considered in using designing and conducting a youth media monitoring project. There is a high turnover of magazine titles, which makes it difficult to monitor magazines over time and renders key informants important as sources of advice on up-to-date and appropriate youth print media. Magazines to be included in such a study should have relatively large circulation figures, in order to gain insights into the potential for widespread diffusion of emerging drug trends by exploring drug fashions and attitudes to drug use. Those coding the drug references should be familiar with street-level drug terms and culture as youth magazines often refer to drugs by relatively allusive or conjectural ‘street’ names or in picture formats. In analysing the data, regard should be had to the legal controls exerted over the way drugs may be covered in the national magazine industry. For example, in Ireland, Section 5 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1984 forbids any publication that ‘advocates or encourages … the use of any controlled drug’ or advertises ‘any use of a pipe, utensil or other thing for use by persons, for or in connection with the use of a controlled drug’. Such a legal constraint may inhibit magazines’ coverage of drug issues.

 Currently in Ireland, independent of this EMCDDA initiative, a Drug Trend Monitoring System, which will collect primary data as well as analyse secondary data on a range of drug use indicators in order to identify nationwide trends in drug use, is being piloted by the National Advisory Committee on Drugs. A report on this pilot, and the methods that have been tested, is due to be submitted to the Cabinet Committee on Social Inclusion for consideration later in 2005.

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Issue Title
Issue 15, Autumn 2005
July 2005
Page Range
p. 2
Health Research Board
Issue 15, Autumn 2005
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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