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The 2015 American Music Awards took place this week. Although most consider this event to be a celebration of music, sometimes it becomes the celebration of a new message. The rap artist Macklemore created such a message in what is clear to be the most indelible moment of this years AMAs. He debuted the single “Kevin” and in a moment clearly borrowing its dramatic and emotional grip from the John Legend and Common “Glory” performance at the Oscars
Among the powerful Lyrics and lines of this song are the soulful riff sung masterfully by Leon Hodges, an ingenue of a new soul-folk fusion sound:
“Doctor, please give me a dose of the American Dream. Put down the pen and look into my eyes. We’re in the waiting room and something ain’t right. All this is on you. We’re overprescribed.”
The song recounts a young man’s losing battle with prescription drug addiction. Daily ” 80-milligram sniffs of Oxycontin” to the hands of the “pallbearer”. He apportioned blame to the pharmaceutical industry and public policy in a “country that spends trillions fighting the war they supplying themselves”. He also points the finger of blame to physician as in the line “a doctor with a license played God and said it’s cool”. He however doesn’t hold Kevin or his Mom who was “freebasing while pregnant with him”
“So, America, is it really worth it? I’m asking you.“
Macklemore asks in response to our society’s dependence on medication for everything.
“Doctor, your methods, any old methods can’t cure my disease without killing me…You’re killing me. You’re killing me…”
Macklemore should be applauded for propelling the issue of prescription drug abuse into the national conversation and onto the pop culture stage. But there is a problem. He neither crafted the message fairly or accurately. Yes, there is plenty of blame to spread among doctors who prescribe carelessly, pharmaceutical company who care more about ‘profit margins’ than about patients, and the purveyors of the War on Drugs, a ruse that is more successful in providing job security and press opportunities the “commanders” of the war, rather than winning the actual war. Macklemore however forgets to include something equally important in telling the story of Kevin: The role of accountability and personal responsibility. ‘Kevin’ would likely be alive if it were not for lacking these.
At this point, most people, if not all people, are aware of the potential danger and risks of using prescription narcotics . We know they can lead to addiction. We know that people can and abuse them in all sorts of ways. We also know that all medications, even aspirin and acetaminophen, have risks. When you make the choice to take a pill, it is your responsibility as a patient or a consumer to understand the risks of that medicine. When you don’t, you share the blame when you suffer the known consequences of that risk. You cannot become addicted to a medicine that you do not take.
Obviously this is somewhat a simplification of reality. People who suffer from chronic pain which renders them disable and lowers their quality of life don’t have much of a choice. I, however, argue that there is a big difference in a patient with chronic pain and an addict. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of people who seek treatment for chronic pain are not people who abuse these medications and are not “addicts”. Only when artists like Macklemore and policy makers understand this difference and distinction can they add meaningfully to the discourse about drugs and medications and develop ways to combat the real problem without wounding the true pain sufferers. And equally importantly, to help the people like Kevin who become addicted to narcotics.
Blaming all doctors, persecuting innocent doctors who try to help people with pain and anxiety, and stigmatizing people who are under treatment for chronic pain are not the ways to solve the problem of addiction in our society and culture. Misappropriating the blame, may garner a hit record and win some Music Awards, but in the long run only provides the opportunity for things to worsen.