“Percocet…Molly, Percocet!” Atlanta native and trap music icon Future repeats this phrase in the chorus of his chart-topping single entitled “Mask Off”. Millions of hip hop fans sing along and dance to the rhythmic beat set to lyrics that highlight one of the nation’s most deadly public health crises. This also contributes to the glorification of opioid abuse in popular culture. Metropolitan Atlanta, as well as rural Georgia, has been plagued by the epidemic of narcotic overdoses stemming from Percocet tablets laced with other potent narcotics like Fentanyl. While Future, Lil Wayne, Jay Z, and many others rhyme about the recreational use of prescription drugs, there are numerous high profile celebrity deaths that drew much-needed attention to the scope of the opioid problem. Whitney Houston, Prince, Amy Winehouse, and Pimp C are just a few whose deaths were implicated by prescription drug overdose.
Does the prevalence of drug references in popular culture drive the demand for opioids for recreational use? Experts have found that the drug references in contemporary music do not contribute to the opioid epidemic in any statistically significant way. Rather, the evidence would suggest that the deceptive marketing efforts of the pharmaceutical industry and irresponsible prescribing physicians bear the majority of the responsibility for the current epidemic.
But while the glorification of opioid use in music is not responsible for increasing dependency, I would argue that it serves to normalize the behavior and makes it more difficult to combat this uniquely American public health crisis. In fact, the United States is the highest consumer of oxycodone and hydrocodone in the world, with the total annual American consumption of 27 million grams of hydrocodone dwarfing the combined consumption of Britain, France, Germany, and Italy. Moreover, the prescription drug crisis implicates another more universal epidemic – illicit drug abuse. According to the CDC, people prescribed and addicted to opioid painkillers are forty times more likely to become heroin addicts than those who do not use opioids.
As policymakers and public health officials enact legislation to curb this scourge and the glorification of opioid abuse in popular culture, we should take heed to words of conscious musician/poets like Chance The Rapper who shared his personal struggle with Xanax and uses his platform and microphone to educate the masses on the ills of chemical dependency.