Empirical Science Meets Moral Panic: An Analysis of the Politics of Needle Exchange

David Buchanan, Susan Shaw, Amy Ford, Merrill Singer

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


The paper presents an analysis of the policy advocacy strategies used by both proponents and opponents of needle exchange programs in the US, drawing on the analytic framework developed by Stone. Based on a case study of the politics of needle exchange in Massachusetts, we argue that proponents of needle exchange have relied almost exclusively on empirical scientific arguments to build their case, while opponents have generally resorted to normative ethical arguments. Since the frames of argument are unrelated, the two sides talk past one another, bypassing progress towards resolution or consensus. By failing to address the ethical concerns raised by opponents, public health advocates of needle exchange are losing the larger public debate. The paper concludes with specific recommendations for how public health advocates should respond to the normative dimensions of this public policy issue.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)427-444
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Public Health Policy
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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