On Wednesday, Nov. 15, rapper Lil Peep passed away at the age of 21 from a Xanax overdose. This name probably won’t resonate with older readers; Lil Peep, born Gustav Ahr, was an emerging figure in the hip-hop industry, known for his music that has been labeled a post-emo hip hop revival. Aside from the obvious age factor that draws humans to mourn the loss of a young life, the death of Ahr is significant because it has sparked a wake-up call in the music industry about drug addiction. While tabloid outlets jump on the opportunity to report celebrity death and scandal, other news outlets such as CNN and the New York Times have used Ahr’s death as a conversation opener for a bigger discussion.
Increasing media coverage has been devoted in the past few weeks to the ever-rising opioid epidemic, but it’s important to note that the drug used in Ahr’s death was Xanax, a commonly prescribed Benzodiazepine. Health Research Funding (HRF), listing statistics from 2015, states that doctors write a whopping 50 million prescriptions for the family of drugs to which Xanax belongs, with the anxiety medication ranking in as the ninth best selling drug in the U.S. and the fifth most prescribed. Ready for more uncomfortable numbers? An estimated 125,000 people visit U.S. emergency rooms annually due to Xanax-related complications. If you are unfamiliar with the medication, generic name alprazolam, the pill is mostly prescribed for anxiety treatment, with RxList listing side effects to include drowsiness, dizziness, sleeping problems and memory loss. Xanax is known to be highly addictive, especially dangerous when mixed with other medications and may be linked to Alzheimer’s disease. Website drug abuse.com shows an alarming and consistent rise in Xanax abuse and addiction, stating that people often combined the pill with other drugs to achieve heightened stimulation, with effects that can indeed be fatal.
In an article for CNN titled “Lil Peep’s death ignites a conversation about the addiction epidemic,” Deena Zaru explores the drug crisis, including the opioid epidemic that the President recently declared to be a national public heath emergency. She reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than two million Americans are dependent on or abusing prescription pain pills and street drugs, which led to 52,404 overdose deaths in it U.S. in 2015. The government is currently aiming to reduce drug addiction by preventative methods, but I believe it is also important to show compassion and fight for aid for people who are already addicted.
Common drug addicts are often depicted as bottom-feeders in society, a strange paradox, since a sizable portion of the music industry and Hollywood glorifies drug use and even drug abuse. Addiction is a disease — a rather un-glamorous one — and though addicts often do terrible things, shunning drug abusers will not aid in their recovery or the overall advancement of society. Preventative methods are certainly needed, but we also must educate and treat our fellow humans.
As someone who was not afraid to speak about his bisexuality and struggles with mental illness, NBC News has used Ahr’s death to educate people about the mental health disparities that are often faced by bi individuals. According to the news outlet, policy attorney Heron Greenesmith stated that there is significant evidence to suggest that bisexual people have worse mental heath struggles. Part of this issue is attributed to the fact that bisexual people are at times rejected, invalidated and stigmatized in both heterosexual and LGBTQ communities.
The death of Ahr should serve as a reminder that even though as a society we are making strides towards equality and acceptance, there are still more barriers and obstacles we must overcome until all people feel welcome and accepted. I’m not saying that homosexual people do not still face enormous challenges and discrimination, but Western society is making an overall movement towards acceptance. On the other hand, bisexual individuals still face a lot of opposition, as they are often not included entirely in either hetero or homosexual circles. I believe a lot of this discrimination could be cleared up if people were able to look at the studies of Dr. Alfred Kinsey, who created the Kinsey scale that proposes that sexuality exists on a spectrum; attraction to others does not have to be defined by labels, but rather in degrees of sexual orientation that doesn’t force an individual to identify with a limited category. If we allow people to exist apart from labels, we will reduce the need to discriminate and brand others as different or wrong.
The holidays are now upon us, and I know that these are topics that many people would rather not think of. The death of Lil Peep can be used as an opportunity for people to remain open-minded and informed and be extra grateful for their health. Be sure to let every loved one who is still in your life know just how cherished they are, and for all who have passed away, rest in peace. You are in our minds and our hearts this holiday season. For all who have lost a loved one due to addiction or mental health struggles: please know that there are many people out there fighting to raise awareness and help those in pain. And to everyone: you are not alone in your struggles. Happy holidays.
Emma Polini is the managing editor of the Van Alstyne Leader, Anna-Melissa Tribune and Prosper Press. What do you want in your paper? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to let her know.