Rappers: Stop glamorizing prescription drug use

During his 2004 stand up “Never Scared,” Chris Rock said, “I love rap music, but I am tired of defending it.” That statement, for me, holds true more today than ever before. Mumbling about nonsense is already hard to defend and only gets worse when the first line to every song these days has a reference to drugs.

Drugs, sex, and money have always been an important part of music, and it never really bothered me — until I became a physician and continuously witnessed drug overdoses in teens and young adults leading to their death. Rappers have now made it “cool” to take prescription drugs and sedatives like opioids and benzodiazepines, aka “Percocet pills and Xanny bars.”

This is leading to more deaths in our younger generation. Recently, a well-known 21-year-old rap star who went by the name Lil Peep was found dead on his tour bus from a drug overdose. The last video he posted online shows him bragging to his fans about taking six Xanax bars (a type of benzodiazepine). There are countless videos like this from influential rappers, and it is important that they stop glamorizing drug use in the songs they put out.

In my four years of being a physician and now working in the intensive care unit, I have already encountered many opioid- and benzodiazepine-related deaths in young adults, and I don’t want to see it anymore. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) from 1999 to 2015, more than 183,000 people have died in the U.S. from overdoses related to prescription opioids. These numbers continue to rise at an alarming rate, and we must all collectively start taking greater action to help stop this crisis.

For the young adults reading this: Abusing and using prescription drugs improperly can lead to severe mental dysfunction, decreased breathing and multiple-organ failure. Opioids (Oxycodone, Hydrocodone, Vicodin, Percocet) and benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin) are depressants. If an overdose occurs, it usually leads to decreased respiratory rate and possible death. This becomes a more substantial concern when mixed with alcohol, as it commonly is. We all used to be young at some point in our lives, and I understand what being a teenager entails. You think you are invincible and no harm can ever come to you. But the reality is that these are dangerous drugs and highly addicting. They can even be worse than common street drugs due to ease of access and usage.

What can we do to control this crisis especially in our children and young adults?

First, as physicians, we have to continue to control the number of prescriptions we give out for chronic pain or anxiety-related disorders. We are in a tough situation during this crisis. Since medical school, one of the main principles we live by is to do no harm and to help a patient in pain. Pain is a tricky and subjective measurement, but we have to have faith in our patients and believe that they are telling the truth when it comes to pain.

Opioids and benzodiazepines should be the last line of medications we prescribe for pain and anxiety. Due to the deserved attention the opioid crisis is getting, physicians are rightfully worried to prescribe these strong medications. But sometimes, we have no choice as nothing else works. Prescription drug monitoring systems have been implemented, but studies show conflicting results on whether or not they actually decrease the number of prescriptions written. Take into mind that this also won’t change the fact that young people can always find ways to their parents’ medicine supply cabinet. Even if physicians do a better job at decreasing the number of prescriptions written, another issue these days are synthetic drugs which can be bought online and can be shipped right to someone’s doorstep.

So what to do we do next? Most change, in my opinion, happens through awareness and pop culture. What is trending is what makes headlines. Our younger generation and generations to come are continually able to gain more information on the internet within seconds, and they idolize celebrities who are in the spotlight. If their idol is always talking about taking Percocet pills and mixing codeine in their drinks, it is inevitable that some will be influenced to do the same. We must now take this fight to the social media world as our influencers are able to help change views and ideas, especially in regards to the younger more impressionable population. The changes in the music they put out can help save lives and prevent the misuse of prescription drugs.

I went through Spotify‘s top 50 United States playlist (which I listen to a lot) and dissected the lyrics of some of my favorite songs. Here are a couple lines from the top songs:

“Rock Star” by Post Malone: “Ayye, I’ve been F***** h*** and poppin’ pillies.”

“Codeine Dreaming” by Kodak Black : “And I’m codeine dreaming, and I’m codeine dreaming.”

“Ghostface Killer” by Offset: “Yea, put on the Patek, poppin’ Xannies, I’m an addict.”

These are just a few of the top trending songs. There are hundreds more just like it. While I understand that the entertainment business is there for entertainment and most of the topics in songs and movies should not be taken literally, we live in an era where everything revolves around what is seen socially on our smart phones and easy click-bait. I believe that these talented artists can still make good music without each of their songs referencing “pill poppin’.”

So, to my fellow rappers or ghostwriters or labels putting this drug-infused music out, you can do better. Start rapping about things that have real relevance as you have more power than most being in the spotlight. We ask our athletes to be role models; I think we need to start asking you guys as well. You may be able to help me control the misuse of prescription pills and possibly save someone’s life.

If you want to give the mumble-rap a rest try listening to the following artists if you already don’t do so: J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, Logic, Sylvan LaCue and Haseeb.

Hassan Patail is a pulmonary and critical care fellow who blogs at The Daily Dose of the Doctors Patail.  He can be reached on Twitter @hspatail.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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