Nathan Kruis

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Alida V. Merlo

Second Advisor

Bitna Kim

Third Advisor

Jennifer Roberts

Fourth Advisor

Daniel Lee


Published research on social stigma has focused on public perceptions of those suffering from mental illness, physical disabilities, and users of “soft” drugs. Historically, social stigma has been measured using scales that assessed the public’s perceptions of stigmatized persons relating to beliefs of dangerousness, blameworthiness, fatalism, and/or a desire for social distance. To date, research has not adequately assessed social stigma toward users of hard drugs. Further, little research has examined the impact of stigma on beliefs and actions. This dissertation seeks to fill the gaps in the literature by exploring perceptions of social stigma toward opioid and heroin users held by law enforcement personnel and students. By adapting constructs and valid measurements from prior research, the study utilized survey methodology to sample law enforcement officers, and students, in the Northeastern United States to inquire about their beliefs toward opioid and heroin users, and to assess how stigma impacts perceptions of help that should be provided to persons who overdose on heroin and opioids.

Results suggest that while stigma toward opioid and heroin users is high in both samples, in the aggregate, students and officers believed that most officers should provide a full range of services to overdose victims. Departmental policy related to Narcan administration was responsible for the largest increase in R-squared values in Hierarchical Multiple Regression (HMR) models predicting beliefs about help. Social stigma had no significant impact on officers’ beliefs related to how other officers should respond to opioid and heroin overdoses. However, social stigma did impact officers’ likelihood of responding to overdoses in a variety of ways. Further, findings indicate that social distance may be the most important dimension of social stigma. Policy implications related to these findings are discussed.

Available for download on Wednesday, July 14, 2021