Thursday, May 5, 2016

A Public Death and a Secret Addiction

Speculation and uncertainty surrounding the death of Prince is converging on an ugly explanation:
Prince Rogers Nelson had an unflinching reputation among those close to him for leading an assiduously clean lifestyle. He ate vegan and preferred to avoid the presence of meat entirely. He was known to eschew alcohol and marijuana, and no one who went on tour with him could indulge either.

But Prince appears to have shielded from even some of his closest friends that he had a problem with pain pills, one that grew so acute that his friends sought urgent medical help from Dr. Howard Kornfeld of California, who specializes in treating people addicted to pain medication.

Dr. Kornfeld, who runs a treatment center in Mill Valley, Calif., sent his son on an overnight flight to meet with Prince at his home to discuss a treatment plan, said William J. Mauzy, a lawyer for the Kornfeld family, during a news conference on Wednesday outside his Minneapolis office.

But he arrived too late.

When the son, Andrew Kornfeld, who works with his father but is not a doctor, arrived in Chanhassen, the Minneapolis suburb where Prince lived, the next morning, he was among those who found the entertainer lifeless in the elevator and called 911, Mr. Mauzy said. Emergency officials arrived but could not revive Prince. He was dead at 57.
Opiate pills are a clean, neat high – no smoke, no smell, no needles, no scars, no obvious signs other than an intermittent zoned-out state easy to blame on other things – and quite a few of the addicted are people whose fastidiousness kept them from indulging in messier vices. This used to be a joke, as in, "maybe if you smoked and drank more you wouldn't have this drug problem," but I don't find it amusing any more.

Prince's death points to another important side of this epidemic, the role of pain and injury. Prince, we now discover, suffered from chronic pain from oft-injured hips. Like many other musicians, actors and dancers he took pain pills so he could perform despite the injuries. Drug abuse is rampant among dancers in particular for just this reason – they are often injured and need to perform anyway, and unlike professional athletes they don't face any sort of drug testing scrutiny. It is hard to estimate how many of the millions of Americans who abuse opiates got started in this way, but probably quite a lot of them.

Prince may also have suffered from depression, the other great gateway to addiction. This is disputed among his friends, but if it is true it puts him in the same sad boat as millions of others. Many people are sad and anxious in a way that SSRI's don't touch, and for some of them opiates soothe their pain in a way that nothing else does.

Which is why opiate addiction is, I think, a social as much as a medical problem. Why are there so many people confronting pain alone?

1 comment:

G. Verloren said...

"Which is why opiate addiction is, I think, a social as much as a medical problem. Why are there so many people confronting pain alone?"

Because nearly our entire culture loathes and despises the weak. Because we divide the world into winners and losers, and if you aren't a winner then it sucks to be you. And even if you are a winner, everyone else is still watching expectantly to see if you go down in flames.

Because while medicine may be reserved for those with enough money, true community and compassion cannot be bought at any price. Because while we spend a billions of dollars and mountains of effort on locking up drug users and making it impossible for them to lead normal lives, we spend almost nothing on curing them and getting them back into society. Because while entertainers are celebrated and find success for distracting us from our troubles, they're reviled and ruined for reminding us of them. Because while we worship the cartoon public personas we craft for our celebrities to embody, we are unwilling to accept them as actual people and fellow human beings with failings and weaknesses.