Spot.IM Contributor

Aug 02, 20184m read

Demi Lovato and Opioids: America’s Problem

By Ben Szurek

On July 24, a familiar name made its way into tabloids and headlines when Demi Lovato, the singer-songwriter and actress known for her hit songs “Skyscraper” and “Tell Me You Love Me,” was discovered unconscious on the floor of her home in Los Angeles. The exact cause of the incident – which ended with an extended stay in the hospital – remains unknown or, at least, unconfirmed. However, an anonymous source revealed that Lovato’s friend revived her with Narcan – a fast-acting agent that can quickly reverse the effects of a drug overdose. If true, this revelation spells out what many have already speculated: Lovato overdosed on something.

By her own admission, addiction is nothing new to the now 25-year-old pop star, who began her celebrity career at the age of 15 on the Disney Channel show, As the Bell Rings. In 2013, Lovato opened up about the low points of her alcoholism and cocaine addiction – both in full effect by the time she was 19. That same year, she entered a sober living facility and started down the path towards substance free living – until June of this year, when she released a song with the sadly misleading title, “Sober.” In the song, Lovato confesses to relapsing and breaking a six-year streak of sobriety: “Momma, I’m so sorry, I’m not sober anymore.”

“… Lovato’s alleged overdose represents more than the continuation of her struggle with addiction – it also makes her one of millions of people affected by the opioid crisis sweeping America.”

Substance abuse and the effort to move past it have been the dominant themes of Lovato’s public life to date. Her July hospitalization and its likely cause do not change that. What is different now, however, is the substance behind the incident. Lovato’s previous problems have stemmed from alcohol and cocaine, but Narcan is an opioid antagonist, meaning that it only works to counteract the class of drugs known as opioids: prescription painkillers, heroin, and synthetic drugs like fentanyl. If the anonymous source behind the Narcan revelation proves correct, then Lovato’s alleged overdose represents more than the continuation of her struggle with addiction – it also makes her one of millions of people affected by the opioid crisis sweeping America.

The opioid crisis, sometimes labeled an epidemic, has become so ubiquitous in America over the past decade that the Trump administration has identified it as a key issue, developed online resources to raise awareness, and directed millions of dollars to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to begin implementing solutions. The White House anticipates that two million Americans will be affected by the opioid crisis – either directly or indirectly – in 2018. If this year goes the way of the past few years, that will mean that tens of thousands of Americans will have died from drug overdose by 2019. According to government statistics, 115 Americans overdose on opioids each day. In total, the White House calculates that the opioid crisis has claimed 300,000 American lives since the turn of the millenium. Fortunately, and thanks to paramedics and her friends, Demi Lovato did not add to that number.

“As real and immediate as celebrities can feel to us, the opioid epidemic strikes far closer to home.”

By virtue of her celebrity status, Lovato’s hospitalization became a headline – another chapter in the story of a public figure’s struggle with addiction. Substance abuse and addiction are evergreen in the world of celebrity. In recent memory, drug overdoses claimed the lives of a number of beloved actors and musicians: Heath Ledger, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Whitney Houston, and Prince. Before them, the same fate befell Chris Farley, Janis Joplin, and Marilyn Monroe, to name just a few. These celebrities – like all celebrities – likely came to know a precious few of the people whose lives they touched. But we see these people and listen to them on a monthly, weekly, daily basis – even after they have passed away. Because celebrities are so present in our lives, their lives mean something to us. Consequently, the news of a celebrity’s death by overdose makes the front page.

As real and immediate as celebrities can feel to us, the opioid epidemic strikes far closer to home. Demi Lovato was found unconscious in Los Angeles. Similarly, with the exception of Prince, the aforementioned celebrities killed by drug overdose were found dead in Chicago, Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and New York. The opioid crisis, on the other hand, rages strongest in the antithesis of the big city: rural America. According to polls, nearly three-quarters of American farmers have abused opioids or know someone who has. Along the same lines, none of the 25 states that reported 21 or more drug overdose deaths in 2016 hold any of America’s largest cities.

Demi Lovato’s July incident – if it truly was an overdose – testifies to her continued presence on a long list of celebrities who have battled drug addiction, and whose struggles have been documented in tabloids and other publications. But the opioid crisis is not the problem of individual celebrities; it is a problem for the country.

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