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Legalization Could Help Put End to Rampant Overdose

After Whitney Houston’s sudden death last Saturday, Tony Bennett didn’t hesitate to publicly make the link to drugs that many suspected. At a Grammy pre-party, the 85-year-old addict in recovery stated: “First it was Michael Jackson, then it was Amy Winehouse and now the magnificent Whitney Houston. I’d like to have every gentleman and lady in this room commit themselves to get our government to legalize drugs.”

Some point out that the problem with Bennett’s statement is that it directly links the deaths of three famous musicians to the prohibition of drugs, which isn’t exactly the case. The drugs that killed Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse (and likely Whitney Houston if the prescription medication bottles found in her room are any indicator) were all legal. Jackson and (quite likely) Houston overdosed on prescription drugs prescribed by doctors while Winehouse died of acute alcohol intoxication.

Nevertheless, though legalizing currently illicit drugs wouldn’t affect the availability of prescription medication or alcohol, Bennett’s treatment for the recent rash of celebrity ODs is spot on. Jackson, Winehouse and Houston were undoubtedly all chronic drug addicts and died because of it, despite having the means to seek treatment. But considering the social stigma that relates drug use and addiction to weak willpower and poor morals, who can blame them? Society’s demonization of drug addiction prevents addicts from admitting their own problems and hinders or prevents them from seeking treatment. This is especially true for celebrities who often have all their actions in the spotlight, whether they want them to be or not.

Legalizing drugs could also help to alleviate the issue of drug overdoses by allowing recreational drug users, who prefer currently illicit drugs, access to the prescriptions they abuse to indulge in their vices. Though it seems like increasing the number of people using currently illegal drugs would increase the number of people who overdose, there are several seldom-considered factors that increase the risk associated with prescription drug abuse:

1. Prescription drugs lack the taboo that illicit drugs have. Many prescription drug abusers consider it “self-medication” rather than drug abuse and addiction. This perpetuates their denial if they develop a dependency.

2. Popping a pill is easier than smoking a joint or snorting a line. Many avoid recreational drugs because the route of administration often involves an unfamiliar activity like smoking, snorting, or injecting a substance. Ingesting a pill is a task that the majority of Americans have done countless times before.

3. The medical industry wants to ignore the issue. Pharmaceutical companies don’t want their products to be linked to the negative social effects of addiction because it would likely decrease their profits. Doctors who over-prescribe medication have the same incentive.


It isn’t hyperbolic to call prescription-drug abuse the next crack cocaine. The sale of opioids (drugs like OxyContin, Demerol and Vicodin) increased by more than sixfold between 1997 and 2006. During that same period, overdose deaths increased by a factor of 2.6.

You could add more names to the list of OD’d celebs. Singer Brittany Murphy. Comedian Greg Giraldo. Playmate Anna Nicole Smith. Drummer James “The Rev” Sullivan. It’s an epidemic. And Tony Bennett’s recommendation to fight fire with fire by legalizing illicit recreational drugs may be the only way to slow it.

David Washington is a second-year political science major.

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2 Responses to Legalization Could Help Put End to Rampant Overdose

  1. David Washington

    February 27, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    The problems you note with drug use (use for pleasure, self-destruction, or to fit in) draw some questions
    1. Is it inherently wrong to use a substance for pleasure? We drink alcohol coffee and smoke tobacco all the time. Are any of those vices (or illicit recreational drug use) any worse than overeating, promiscuity, or gambling?

    2. Isn’t trying to protect people from what some deem self destructing limiting our freedom? Many legal actions are self destructing (like overeating, dangerous sexual behavior, and gambling), if we have the government saying what we can and can’t do based on whats self destructing then we are sacrificing our freedom on the basis of knowing whats better for people.

    3. Can’t drug use sometimes be beneficial? Pharmaceutics are drugs. Heroin is used in medical situations. Studies show drinking alcohol in moderation can be beneficial for heart health. Many users of other drugs claim “mind-expanding” properties. Even solely as a relief for tension and anxiety, drug use may do more good than harm.

    There’s nothing wrong with a society that uses drugs in moderation to cure acute pain, minor ailments or major causes of death right? Well in my mind that’s using drugs to function normally. Recreational drugs may not always be healthy to use but lots of things that may damage us (like using fossil fuels, eating fast food, and skydiving) make life more convenient and enjoyable so we shouldn’t ban it.

  2. Alyssa Raley

    February 24, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    I’m sorry but-What? legalizing illicit drugs is not a solution to this problem, it is at best a band aid on a festering wound. First we have to look at why people feel the need to do drugs: for the thrill, self destruction, peer presure, etc. How would legalizing drugs aid with these kinds of problems? By getting rid of a social taboo? So that users would have less embarassment is getting help? There’s a reason that people are embarassed to get help; using drugs, for whatever reason, is not a socially or physically healthy thing to do. And thoes who do it for a thrill of doing something taboo will probably just move on to something else to get their thrill, something that could be more or less dangerous than their current method of entertainment.

    I’m having a hard time seeing the logic in this article. And even if legalizing drugs does help, it says a lot about a society that needs drugs in order to function in a normal fashion. People should work on their problems instead of turning to a short term, unhealthy solution.