We must change the way we talk about drug addiction

Elizabeth Braaten

Last Wednesday night, news that artist Lil Peep, whose full name is Gustav Åhr,  had died of a Xanax overdose sent shockwaves throughout the hip-hop community. The 21-year-old rapper was found unresponsive in his tour bus in Tucson, Arizona,  before a scheduled show. Despite the attempts of first responders to save him, Åhr was pronounced dead at 8:53 p.m.

Prior to his death, Åhr had made numerous posts on social media displaying his drug addiction and depression. While tragic, Åhr’s death marks a larger trend of ignoring the victims of drug abuse and mental illness until it is too late to save them. With current rates of prescription drug addiction at epidemic levels in the United States, we must commit to the promotion of safe drug use and treatment for addicts if we wish to mitigate the amount of death associated with it.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, an estimated 64,000 people died from drug overdose, a staggering figure that has doubled within the last decade. Furthermore, about 50 Americans die each day from prescription painkiller overdoses. A Spring 2017 survey conducted by University Health Services found that 12.3 percent of UT students report using prescription drugs without a prescription in the last year alone.

These alarming statistics demonstrate the urgent need for a change in the way we talk about drug addiction in the United States. While there is no way to prevent everyone from abusing prescription drugs, we can make progress in reversing this trend by educating ourselves and promoting safe usage within our communities.

First, we must stop shaming drug addicts while they are alive. Though those who knew him said he seemed happy, Åhr's social media pages show potential causes of concern that have been cited as evidence of his abuse.Check in on your friends, and if you see them undertaking destructive behaviors or showing warning signs of suicide — say something. There are an abundance of resources on campus that help people struggling with addiction, such as the Center for Students in Recovery.

Furthermore, many prescription drug-related deaths involve mixing drugs like Xanax with alcohol or other prescription drugs like Percocet or Vicodin, which are opioids. In 2015, 22,598 of prescription drug-related deaths were attributed to cases where opioids were involved. However, NARCAN is available for purchase from pharmacies in the state of Texas, and is a known antidote for opioid overdoses. Keeping this on hand is a great precaution to take, as it could save a life one day.

Finally, we must stop glorifying the abuse of hard drugs within popular music. While songs like “Mask Off” are great to listen to, for many people they extend beyond fun — to an addiction they’re unable to kick. Molly and Percocet may seem like far away concepts when you listen to Future on the radio but won’t after one of your friends overdoses.

To alter the tragic effects of drug addiction in the United States, we must alter the way we respond to it. His name was Gustav Åhr, he was only 21 years old, and we failed him.

Braaten is a junior international relations and global studies major from Conroe.