‘He was gonna quit tomorrow’: The over-prescribing of pain meds makes its way into pop culture

In his April 11 #HealthyRegion blog post, Dr. Noah Nesin, Penobscot Community Health Care’s vice president of medical affairs, described how the over-prescribing of pain medications has affected Maine residents. However, if you are a regular reader of national news, you know that the opioid epidemic is not unique to our state.

Musician Macklemore poses at the 62nd Annual BMI Pop Awards in Beverly Hills, California, May 13, 2014. (Danny Moloshok | Reuters)

Musician Macklemore poses at the 62nd Annual BMI Pop Awards in Beverly Hills, California, May 13, 2014. (Danny Moloshok | Reuters)

In fact, it’s a significant problem facing the country. A 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration found 1.9 million Americans abused or were dependent on prescription opioid pain medication. At a recent meeting of U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Health, more than a dozen bills around opioid use disorder were discussed — and that’s only scraping the surface of the legislation regarding opioid use disorders that the 114th Congress must consider.

Here in Maine, Gov. Paul LePage signed into law LD 1646, “An Act To Prevent Opiate Abuse by Strengthening the Controlled Substance Prescription Monitoring Program,” on April 19. The new law is aimed at addressing the over-prescribing of opioid pain medications. It mandates prescriber participation in the prescription monitoring program, sets limits for the strength and duration of opioid prescriptions, and requires that prescribers submit opioid prescriptions electronically beginning next year and that they undergo addiction training every two years.

Some may argue that how providers treat patients shouldn’t be decided in our hall of government. However, consider these national statistics from 2014, from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, Mortality File:

  • 47,055 lethal drug overdoses
  • 18,893 overdose deaths related to prescription pain relievers
  • 10,574 overdose deaths related to heroin

But it’s not just doctors, health-care providers and government officials who are talking about overprescribing. It’s a topic that’s also brought up in pop culture and music.

Rapper Macklemore debuted a song named “Kevin” at the American Music Awards in late November 2015.  According to a radio.com article from Nov. 23, 2015, the song honors his friend Kevin, who passed away from an overdose while taking prescription medication.

Macklemore raps, “He was gonna quit tomorrow. We’re all gonna quit tomorrow,” and later states even more powerful words:

And now my little brother is in the sky
from a pill that a doctor prescribed,
that a drug dealing billion dollar industry supplied…

First dealer was his mom’s medicine cabinet.

Soul singer Leon Bridges, who collaborated with Macklemore in the song, sings the lyrics:

Doctor, please,
give a dose of the American dream.
Put down the pen, and look in my eyes.
We’re in the waiting room, and something ain’t right.

This song is not the first time Macklemore has sung about substance use. The rapper often writes about his own experiences with addiction, treatment and recovery.

Unfortunately, many in Maine and around the country can identify with this song and its lyrics. It is one of the reasons why health-care providers in the greater Bangor region are working hard to address prescribing patterns, and, as Dr. Nesin detailed in his blog post, to combat the most important national public health challenge of our time.

If you have never heard the song, check out the video.