Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



The ongoing increase in opioid and polysubstance-related overdoses and mortality in United States coincides with a shift in the ways substance use is understood. Once almost exclusively treated as a criminal problem, substance use, and overdose is increasingly viewed in terms of public health and from an urban to rural issue. The discourse surrounding the use of psychoactive substances largely omits the voices of the very people who use them. Likewise, the social context of small towns, at once not quite rural nor entirely urban, is generally given little consideration. To address these gaps in the research, I conduct two historical discourse analyses; the first analyzing advertisements and the second studying news articles published in the Northern Ohio region known as The Firelands. I conduct and analyze unstructured interviews with current and former opioid and polysubstance users, their family, and friends. I employ ethnographic data collection to advance and enrich the sociological understanding of the lived experiences and knowledge of the people who use psychoactive substances. The results of the discourse analysis are used to contextualize the knowledge of small-town opioid users and their lived experiences. Collectively, these insights contribute to the sociological study of deviance, a deeper understanding of drug use within the context of space and place, and the sociology of health and medicine.



Committee Chair

Shrum, Wesley