Millions of music lovers worldwide have mourned the tragic death of 26-year-old hip-hop artist Mac Miller, who was pronounced dead upon arrival of the authorities on Friday, Sept. 7. The cause of death was suspected to have been a drug overdose.
Miller’s death was one of many recent instances of drug abuse by celebrities making headlines, along with singer Demi Lovato’s heroin overdose in July and actor Shaun Weiss’ decision to check into rehab in August. One would like to believe that seeing so many loved public figures struggle for their lives would act as a deterrent from abusing drugs. However, the sad reality is that the opposite is true. Not only does the entertainment industry continue to promote rabid drug use through their art, but we as a society — myself included — endorse the very behavior that we seem to mourn when tragedy strikes.
We’ve become numb — no pun intended — to the amount of music we are exposed to that paints habitual drug use in a positive light. In the last year, the top spot on Billboard’s Top 100 songs list has been held by a song about drugs for a combined 14 weeks. More than 25 percent of the last 100 songs to top the chart contain lyrics about using drugs. Of the five songs that held that top spot for the longest amounts of time, two of them were written about the use of drugs and alcohol. Let it be known that our generation certainly did not start this trend, which dates all the way back to the 1960s. But the issue is not about who started it. It is about the fact that we are living through one of the worst drug epidemics in history, yet we continue to endorse these messages as if we do not want to acknowledge the fact that there is a problem.
Yes, the problem spans much further than the realm of celebrities that we see facing these issues on the internet. In 2016 an estimate of 63,600 Americans died as a result of drug overdoses, a sharp increase from the 52,400 drug-related deaths the year before. The issue got even worse in 2017 with 72,000 drug-related deaths — a shocking average of nearly 200 per day — again, significantly topping the previous year’s record. As reported by the Centers for Disease Control, more people are dying from drug overdoses than any single-year death totals from H.I.V., car crashes, or gun violence in the history of our nation. Since 1991 the number of prescriptions written for opioids has tripled, and the amount of cocaine and heroin imported into the United States has increased over six-fold.
Our generation has two options to consider: we can either fall in line with those who came before us and continue to ignore the issue as it worsens, or we can be the ones who buck the trend and stop glorifying one of our nation’s most rapidly growing causes of death. We are not responsible for the culture we were born into, but we will be responsible for how we portray the use of drugs to our children and grandchildren. Will we attempt to make a positive difference in pop culture, or will we continue dancing to the music that celebrates the death of so many that we love?