This article explores why federal legislators may have been motivated to treat the current opioid crisis as a health issue, when past drug problems have been treated as a criminal justice issue. Using theories from political science, policy studies and sociology, this article summarizes leading theories of legislative behavior and applies them to the current opioid crisis, in an effort to better understand what motivates legislators to enact legislation to solve pressing social problems in a way that reframes the problem. Part II of this article provides an overview of the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, its significance, and how it evidences a congressional redefinition of the problem of drug overdose deaths. Part III reviews general theories of legislative behavior and combines the theories to suggest a model for what motivates legislators to act. Part IV analyzes each factor identified in the theoretical model in depth and provides evidence of each factor’s influence on the redefinition of overdose deaths as a health problem. Lastly, Part V discusses how this instance of reframing informs our understanding of what motivates legislators to reframe a policy issue in order to arrive at different types of policy solutions and how such an understanding can assist other fields in reframing issues that have become stagnated in the legislative process or have resulted in ineffective policy solutions.
Taleed El-Sabawi, What Motivates Legislators to Act: Problem Definition & the Opioid Epidemic, a Case Study, 15 IND. HEALTH L. REV. 188 (2018).