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Celebrity Fentanyl Use Isn't Rooted in Hedonism. It's Desperation

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Mac Miller performs at Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival 2017, Los Angeles. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images)

Late last year, the world found out that Mac Miller had overdosed on a combination of fentanyl, cocaine and alcohol. In July 2018, Demi Lovato almost died after overdosing on oxycodone that had been laced with fentanyl. In 2017, after Lil Peep died from a combination of Xanax and fentanyl, multiple sources suggested he hadn't known the Xanax he took was laced with anything. The year before, Prince died after taking counterfeit Vicodin that had been laced with fentanyl, and Tom Petty's autopsy showed he had three kinds of fentanyl, along with oxycodone, temazepam, alprazolam and citalopram, in his system. Wilco guitarist Jay Bennett was an early celebrity victim, dying of a fentanyl overdose all the way back in 2009. There can be no doubt at this point that fentanyl is a killer.

Dr. Drew has suggested that famous people have been dying from these kinds of overdoses because they were receiving star treatment. "Doctors can be attracted to giving special treatment to the stars," he said, in reference to Prince who "was getting personal treatment from a doctor" at the time of his death. But Dr. Drew's assessment doesn't make a great deal of sense if you look at this on a case-by-case basis. To this day, authorities can't figure out where Prince's compromised Vicodin came from. Lil Peep allegedly got his pills from a young woman who was a fan. Lovato got her drugs from this guy:

Fentanyl isn't a problem because people are getting prescriptions from sycophantic doctors; it's not even legal in pill form. Fentanyl is a problem because the dealers who supply heroin and off-market drugs keep lacing everything with it, thanks to the fact that it's both significantly cheaper and 50 to 100 times more potent than heroin. In short, it allows suppliers to make stronger drugs for less money. And the knock-on effects are drastic. The CDC reported that out of 5,152 opioid-related deaths in 10 states, fentanyl was a factor in 3,700 of them.

"Fentanyl has been found in ... heroin, other opioids, methamphetamine and cocaine," Combat Addiction notes. "Often, those selling, buying or using these drugs are unaware of the presence of fentanyl. Drugs containing fentanyl or its analogues, sometimes even in small quantities, substantially increase the danger of overdose and death."


Fifty years ago, the drugs that killed celebrities were a lot more straightforward. Heroin killed Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Sid Vicious. Cocaine and heroin killed River Phoenix and John Belushi.  Jimi Hendrix and John Bonham choked on their own vomit while intoxicated. There was a sense that those deaths were the result of hedonism gone terribly wrong; rock stars risking it all and partying to excess.

By contrast, Prince, Tom Petty and Jay Bennett were all trying to cope with debilitating hip injuries. Demi Lovato is bipolar, and Mac Miller and Lil Peep both suffered from clinical depression. None of these stars were trying to get their rocks off; they were trying to use medicine without consulting a doctor, in a desperate attempt to feel better.

All untimely deaths are, of course, tragic. But there is a sense that the fentanyl-related ones, in particular, could have, and should have, been avoided. As long as fentanyl keeps showing up in drugs that are supposed to be significantly less potent, the list of stars lost too soon is bound to get longer.

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