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HBO Documentary Explores the Penalties for International Drug Trafficking

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In 2008 HBO released the documentary Ganja Queen. This documentary explores the story of Schappelle Corby. She was arrested in Indonesia for alleged attempts to smuggle marijuana. Her ensuing trial become a magnet for media attention. Corby’s story drew attention to issues such as drug trafficking, human rights, and addiction. It drew attention to the relationship between media, public opinion, and drugs. Now that she is due to return to her home country, Australia, in May 2017, her story once again makes headlines.

Schappelle CorbyThe media has an interesting relationship with public opinion. It both shapes and responds to it. HBO’s documentary is no exception. In an interview[1], Ganja Queen’s director Janine Hosking explains why Corby’s story captured media and public attention: “She’s young, she’s attractive, she doesn’t fit the profile of what people think a drug courier looks like and sounds like. She could be anyone’s sister or the girl next door. And I think she was portrayed like that in the media…She’s telegenic. You know, the cameras love Schapelle.” The media gave Corby’s story attention because she did not fit assumptions about who uses or smuggles drugs. This attention influenced public opinion regarding her innocence or guilt.

The media has a unique role in beginning conversations about drugs and addiction. It has a unique role in shaping what the public knows and thinks about these topics. Ganja Queen explored a sensationalized case related to these topics. In the process it may have opened some eyes. It may have also perpetuated some problems related to media and addiction.

One problem in popular media representations of drugs, drug crime, and treatment is the sensationalization of all these topics. Sensationalization furthers the divide between entertainment and facts. This divide keeps individuals from seeing or understanding the truth about addiction. It can create fear, shame and stigma. It can keep families from knowing how to help or if they even can. Media representations even influence public policy. The International Journal on Drug Policy[2] explains, “Emotional fear about addiction and related problems (e.g., crime) dominate media portrayals about drug use as well as policy discussions. In contrast, research findings, especially in the absence of strong advocacy, are experienced as academic (i.e., without much emotional charge).” Fear leads to policies that emphasis incarceration or punishment over treatment. Inaccurate emotional portrayals do not reflect the reality of addiction as a disease. However they make addiction more interesting and compelling to the general public than dry statements of fact. This leads to misunderstandings about addicts, intervention and treatment. It leads to cases like Corby’s making the news and further emphasizing the relationship between drugs, crime, and drama.

Media attention makes it harder for some to see the truth about addiction. It can make it difficult for individuals to speak up, as they fear assumptions will be made about who they are and what their personal situation is like. However the relationship between the media and drug use is not all negative. Movies, television shows, news, and publications can create a divide between fact and entertainment. It can also close the gap between individuals and recovery. The media can, and has, begun to report on the addiction epidemic. While some of this coverage is again based in fear rather than fact, public opinion is changing. Addiction was once seen as a personal flaw or a hopeless situation. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration[3] explains, “Today, when individuals with mental and/or substance use disorders seek help, they are met with the knowledge and belief that anyone can recover and/or manage their conditions successfully.” The media has helped spread this knowledge and belief. Public opinion has evolved in response. This evolution will cause the media to continue to reshape its portrayals and coverage of addiction-related topics. There is hope for media truth, public support, and recovery.

Michael’s House understands the truth about substance abuse. There is no reason for assumptions or stigma. These only get in the way of compassionate and effective care. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment because there is no universal addiction experience. Addiction is a real disease, and it looks different for everyone. Call us to learn more about treatment options for yourself or a loved one. We offer free initial assessments that will better help you and us learn about your recovery needs and if Michael’s House is the right fit. We will connect you to the understanding services, professionals and resources you need. We are here for you from early contemplation to long after immediate treatment ends.



[1] “Film goes behind ‘Ganja Queen’ travel nightmare” Reuters. 2008. Web. 28 Jun 2008.

[2] “Addiction Science Advocacy: Mobilizing Political Support to Influence Public Policy.” International Journal on Drug Policy. 1 Mar 2015. Web. 8 Mar 2017.

[3] “Recovery and Recovery Support.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 5 Oct 2015. Web. 8 Mar 2017.