Dr. Johnson and co-authors explore opioid crisis via YouTube

Spotlight on SOE faculty and doctoral student research

Starting from left: Kaprea Johnson, Ph.D., and Dana Brookover, doctoral student.
From left: Dr. Kaprea Johnson and doctoral student Dana Brookover.

The amount of knowledge being generated by VCU School of Education faculty in published research goes beyond merely enhancing the school’s reputation – it is helping to shape the future of education itself. One recent example of this is the study below, co-authored by Dr. Kaprea Johnson, associate professor in the Department of Counseling and Special Education, which looks at the American opioid crisis through families’ lived experiences shared in YouTube videos.


Dr. Kaprea Johnson, with her students Allison Worth, a master’s student at Old Dominion University, and Dana Brookover, a doctoral student in the VCU School of Education’s Ph.D. in Education, Concentration in Counselor Education and Supervision program, explored the opioid crisis through the eyes of parents and families who shared their stories online via YouTube videos. The authors collected data from 125 YouTube videos, 33 of which fit the inclusion criteria for the analysis of a person who identifies as a parent or family member of a person under 21 years of age who has used opioids.

The purpose of the study was to find three pieces of information:

  1. whether there was a viewership and need for family-generated content on the opioid crisis,
  2. how these families wanted their viewers to conceptualize the opioid crisis, and
  3. their experiences as a direct result of family members’ opioid use.

Notably, Dr. Johnson and her colleagues found that there was indeed a robust viewership for family-related content on the opioid epidemic as the YouTube videos analyzed in the study had been viewed over three million times. The authors also found that there was a demand for these kinds of health content videos on social media platforms.

The families who posted the YouTube videos gave first-hand accounts of their loved ones’ opioid abuse, with many of these cases ending in fatalities. Parents graphically described the ways in which their children were destroyed by opioid use and wanted their viewers to see the opioid crisis as severe, urgent and systemic. Many families specifically discussed the damaging impact a family member’s opioid use had (and continues to have) on the entire family, rather than being isolated to a single person. The videos also shed light on a number of additional themes, including the benefits and barriers to receiving counseling and supportive services, the multigenerational impact of the opioid crisis, the importance of prevention and intervention, and disbelief by family members that extreme drug use could affect their loved ones.

The most significant takeaway from this study is how social media platforms such as YouTube can have a major impact on how health care information is disseminated.


Johnson, K.F., Worth, A., Brookover, D. (2019): Families Facing the Opioid Crisis: Content and Frame Analysis of YouTube Videos. The Family Journal, 27(2), 209-220. https://doi.org/10.1177/1066480719832507