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Picking up the pieces: place based race discourse in Pittsburgh opioid epidemic responses




LaFehr, Ericann A., author
Bubar, Roe, advisor
Ishiwata, Eric, advisor
Souza, Caridad, committee member
Glantz, Michelle, committee member

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Public Health's dominant focus on white opioid users coupled with a colorblind ideology has resulted in the reiteration of racially stratified public health discussions, strategies, initiatives, and treatment both nationally and in the Pittsburgh region. This case study uses discourse analysis guided by a critical place-based intersectional and decolonial framework to explore the ways in which whiteness and place are considered by Pittsburgh Public Health entities who have positioned themselves as experts in addressing the opioid epidemic. Findings show that within Pittsburgh Public Health discourse, whiteness is reduced to a descriptor, omitting the reality of a racialized category with a distinct historical racial formation comprised of white supremacist violence. Findings also show that place is reduced to the backdrop in which opioid use happens resulting in the omission of the material relationships between land and people that are a critical component of the sociohistorical formation of whiteness within the industrial and deindustrial history of Pittsburgh. This study argues that the simplification of place based white racialized identity to a mere descriptor is a critical component that maintains white supremacy within Pittsburgh Public Health discourse and strategies that aim to address the opioid crisis. This study argues that if Public Health approaches are to be truly effective, discussions of the opioid epidemic in relation to white people must include the sociohistorical legacy of violent participation in white racial formations, as the collective historical memory holds the key in addressing the deeply seated underlying causes of pain.


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public health
opioid epidemic
quality of care


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