Music Heals: Macklemore Talks About the Opiate Epidemic

Interviews, Music Heals

That’s Prince, Michael and Whitney, that’s Amy, Ledger and Pimp C
That’s Yams, that’s DJ AM
God damn they’re making a killing
Now it's getting attention cause Sara, Katey and Billy
But this shit's been going on from Seattle out to South Philly
It just moved up out the city
And spread out to the 'burbs
Now it's everybody's problem, got a nation on the verge

— "Drug Dealer"

According to a 2015 report from Washington State's Office of the Attorney General, the majority of drug overdose deaths — more than six out of ten — involve an opioid. Nationwide, 1 in 4 people who receive prescription opioids for chronic pain struggle with addiction. This is a topic close to Macklemore's heart; when he was younger, he battled his own addiction with abusing the opioid painkillers OxyContin and Percocet. Since his recovery, he's become an active advocate for a better system of tracking prescriptions and more access to recovery methods. In 2016, he teamed up with MTV for the documentary Prescription for Change: Ending America’s Opioid Crisis, and was joined by President Obama for a public service announcement. In this web exclusive interview for KEXP's Music Heals series, DJ Kevin Cole and Macklemore address the epidemic. 

Kevin: So, we're currently in the worst drug epidemic in American history and this is different than the past. The drugs right now that are causing the most deaths are legal prescription opioids. That is insane to me. 

Macklemore: It's an epidemic. You know what happens is,  you get injured or something happens. You get a procedure, surgery, and you go to the doctor and they have a big bottle of narcotics for you. Of opioids. They have legal prescription bottles of synthetic heroin ready to give you, and if you need more, chances are, you can find it. In all of my years — and I've had numerous experiences with pills and opioids — and all the money and my time getting them legally from a doctor, I never had a doctor talk to me about, "Do you have a history of addiction?" A doctor has never had a conversation with me telling me that getting off of these is difficult. You're on these pills for an extended period of time — or not, even like five days. If you're taking these pills every four to six hours or whatever it is, you're going to have some night sweats. Your body is physically going to be wanting and craving more pills. No doctor has ever told me that. And it's crazy to me.

I remember when I used to sneak — you know, my mom would have a bottle of pills in the house that was prescribed by a doctor. I started with that as a kid. And I remember when I first got my wisdom teeth pulled out, they gave me 30 Percocet. You know, maybe like one or two, or maybe three or four, would have been fine, but to give a 19-year-old kid 30 Percocet is insane to me. That's what our system does — we over-prescribe for pain. I know there are issues of chronic pain — I'm actually coming off of a surgery myself so I empathize with that. I get it. But we overdo it in America, like we do pretty much everything else, and we're seeing the drastic repercussions of that. And what happens is, those pills are more expensive. If you get OxyContin and you're buying that on the street — start with the doctors, then you gotta go to the street — eventually, you're going to be very addicted to opioids. You're going to figure out, "OK, I can save this amount of money if I go to heroin." And that's what's happening.

The increase in heroin use and heroin overdoses is really up right now and it's directly tied into prescription opioids where you know you get the prescription you get hooked to really fast on those. And there's also the relationship you have with the doctor right as you mentioned you get hurt and you get something and they may or may not ask if you have any issues with addiction or maybe you just even if you don't you know you get the painkillers and you can get addicted super fast. But it's coming from a trusted authoritative source right. So, I think there's an issue there. What is your feeling about the accountability or the responsibility of doctors in the pharmaceutical industry, and what can be done? 

I think that what it comes down to is doctors caring. Doctors really being in that role of not overprescribing, of having conversations with the patients, of doing their best to manage this epidemic in the doctor's office. It starts there. I tore my meniscus in my knee when I was in Europe. This is at the beginning of the last tour and I was an extreme amount of pain, performing every night on this torn meniscus. And I couldn't cancel the tour. So, here I am in a place where I'm like OK, I need a treat of pain. What am I going to do? In America, if that happened to me, they would give me however many Percocet I wanted. That would be the first thing that they would do. They wouldn't talk about physical therapy — chances are, maybe some doctors would. They would just immediately be like, "Well, you probably need surgery; here's medication to get you through this time." Versus in Europe, they don't give you opiates. They just don't. Even if you want them. They won't give them to you. They have a different system. You look at the number of drug overdoses, you look at how many people are hooked on pills in 2018 in America versus the rest of the world — there is such a juxtaposition between how we treat our pain in America and the rest of the world treats their pain. And the pain is the same, but the way that we treat it is different. And because of that, the death rate and the amount of people turning to heroin, and the amount of people who are hooked on pills and can't get off and on in active addiction is completely different.

Drugs don't discriminate, so if you don't think you're going to get hooked, you're probably wrong. 

Yeah, it doesn't matter who you are. It's beyond just willpower. It's beyond the mind. It's something that physically happens it takes over and that's why people get hooked. So we have an epidemic right now.

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs immediate help, call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), Crisis Clinic (1-866-789-1511), or the Washington Recovery Helpline (a program of the Crisis Clinic). You can find additional resources here. You are not alone.

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