These aggregate representations are created and circulated in a variety of ways

These aggregate representations are created and circulated in a variety of ways. For example, consider the results of a NIDA-funded research project published in a peer-reviewed journal and then evaluated, transformed, and disseminated through governmental reports and news media. In 2005, a group of researchers published findings on the prevalence rates. It correlated associated with the nonmedical use of prescription stimulants (Ritalin, Dexedrine, or Adderall) among US college students (McCabe, Knight, Teter, & Wechsler, 2005). Notably, the authors of this research did not uncritically equate nonmedical use with abuse. Instead, they describe this practice simply as “nonmedical use” and the people who participate in this activity as “nonmedical users” – there is no mention of “abuse” or “abusers.” This is apparent in the title of the piece, “Nonmedical use of prescription stimulants among US college students,” as well as in the presentation of results:

The lifetime prevalence of nonmedical prescription stimulant use was 6.9%, past year prevalence was 4.1%, and past month prevalence was 2.1%. Past year rates of nonmedical use ranged from zero to 25% at individual colleges. (McCabe et al., 2005:96, my emphasis).

However, an amazing transformation occurs when these same data are reframed through forms of institutional categorical discourse and disseminated in a manner that alters fundamental meanings. A NIDA research note publication entitled “Studies Identify Factors Surrounding Rise in Abuse of Prescription Drugs by College Students” reframes the nonmedical use presented in the original research article. Under the subheading “Stimulant Abuse Nationwide,” this source reports:

Men were twice as likely as women (5.8 percent versus 2.9 percent) to have abused methylphenidate (Ritalin), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), and amphetamine/dextroamphetamine (Adderall) (NIDA, 2006, my emphasis).

These characterizations of abuse are then publicized through various news media. The study under consideration, for instance, became the subject of a report by USA Today, a national daily American newspaper:

Recent nationwide surveys by the University of Michigan and other researchers have indicated that the abuse of prescription drugs among young adults and teens is increasing, while the abuse of drugs such as cocaine and heroin is decreasing among those groups (Leinwand, 2005, my emphasis).

In this way, what began as an investigation of nonmedical prescription stimulant use is transformed and amplified through governmental institutions and media outlets into aggregate portrayals of pharmaceutical abuse by young people.