A silent killer is sweeping the nation, but President Obama hopes to shed more light on the issue of opioid addiction with the help of an unlikely ally: white rapper Macklemore.
Macklemore and POTUS sat down together to discuss the current opioid epidemic in the U.S. for an MTV documentary entitled “Prescription for Change: Ending America’s Opioid Crisis,” released online on October 11. In it, the two discuss the history of opioid use in America, methods for recovery and treatment, and their own personal stories.
Macklemore, 33, has been vocal throughout his musical career about his past struggles with opioid addiction. In the documentary, he reveals how it all started, with prescription painkillers.
“I was on Percocet, and all of the sudden I’m doing them every day, to the point where I have this dependency,” he told Obama. “I remember one day, the guy where I was getting it from didn’t have any more, but he said he had this other thing — it’s called Oxycontin. Within a week, I was isolated in my room doing this drug, just to stay alive, in a way.”
That makes the “Thrift Shop” rapper just one of an estimated 11 million Americans who have used Oxycontin for non-medical purposes. The prescription painkiller, one of the most commonly abused drugs in the U.S., is a semisynthetic opioid in the same class of drugs as heroin, fentanyl, and morphine.
Though Macklemore was able to get sober in 2008 thanks to a stint in rehab, he knows that others have not been so lucky. In fact, the number of people dying of overdoses is on the rise throughout the country.
“In 2014, we saw more people die of drug overdoses than car accidents,” Obama explains in the documentary, “and the majority of those [deaths are from] opioids.”
The issue may hit particularly close to home for the President, whose beloved city of Chicago has witnessed some of the most severe surges in opioid-related cases in recent years. The percentage of the urban population treated for heroin addiction there is more than twice that of the national average, and some 1,425 residents died of a heroin overdose between 2013 and 2015.
Though the majority of heroin-related emergency room visits occur in hospitals on Chicago’s west side, experts know that the drug does not discriminate by location, age, race, or gender.
“They were housewives, athletes, grandparents, cheerleaders, and straight-A students, from the age of 17 to 72,” said coroner Patrick O’Neil of Will County, IL, about the cases he’s seen. Men, however, do tend to have higher rates of addiction than women.
President Obama himself even admits in the MTV documentary that he’s no stranger to the allure of certain substances.
“When I was a teenager, I used drugs and drank and pretty much tried whatever was out there,” he admitted. “But I was in Hawaii, and it was a pretty relaxed place. I was lucky I did not get addicted — except to cigarettes, which took me a long time to kick.”
By sharing their personal stories, Obama and Macklemore hope that they can reduce the stigma surrounding opioid use and other forms of substance abuse, in order to encourage people to find help before it’s too late.
“I wanted to send a message that seeking help is the strong thing to do,” Obama said about his agreement to participate in the documentary. The film made its premiere at South by South Lawn, an interactive film and music festival held at the White House last weekend. It aired on MTV on October 4.