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[ Opinion ]

Double Standard Stigma


As the mother of an addict who overdosed, I’m always saddened by some peoples reaction when I tell my son’s story. Well, he was an addict they say. He did this to himself they say, giving me the feeling that in their twisted minds it’s ok that he died. Almost like he deserved it and why am I so surprised? People who use drugs usually die if they don’t get help and quit. Like it’s no big deal when just your average addict dies. The stigma of what an addict is resonates through many conversations I’ve had since my son died.

People look at me like oh well sorry about your luck. Like my son was a useless, unproductive, disposable human being. Not the thoughtful, funny man that he truly was who just happened to have a horrible disease.

My question is why is this stigma mostly associated with addicts from certain socioeconomic classes. Why did no one point the finger at Michael Jackson, he had an addiction problem. There was no one in the media saying he deserved his fate. Everyone went into immediate mourning over a beautiful life cut too short. Everyone blamed his doctor and the lawmakers went for an immediate arrest. The music world did amazing tributes to his talent and the world watched as his grieving children said a heart breaking good bye to their loving father. Please don’t get me wrong. I loved his music and talent and mourned for his family. My son was heavy into his addiction when Michael died and I used his death to scare my son into rehab.  It was like Groundhog Day when Prince died from the exact same disease.  Once again, the world went into immediate mourning.  The color purple lit up the sky.  Not once did we hear the “A” word used when talking about Prince’s sudden death.  The public denied that this amazing man could be just another addict.  Excuses were made for his abuse, blaming his chronic pain.  Yet Prince died from abusing the same opioids that kill so many no name addict’s.  Prince overdosed and died alone just like many of the others except no one left flowers, lit candles or held world wide memorials for the unknowns.

Its the same thing for all of Hollywood. Heath Ledger died in his apartment from the same deadly combo of drugs that my son used. Once again everyone expressed sadness and shock at another talented life cut too short. Never stating that he had enough money to get help anywhere in the world, yet this disease was stronger than his will to fight. Never heard the addict word.   Just another unfortunate tragedy.

It’s the same for Whitney, Cory and Philip and all the other rich and famous people who die exactly the way our children have died. Drug Overdoses. Yet there are no negative statements or publicity. Public reaction is one of shock, pity and sadness. No one says oh well they were addicts they did it to themselves. No one shuns the families afraid to be associated with the leftovers of the addict. These grieving families are treated with respect and kindness. No talking behind closed doors. No finger pointing.  No one blaming poor parenting.  In the world of the rich and famous it’s just an unfortunate tragedy.

How can a persons wealth and standing in this world make such a difference in how they are judged. An addict is an addict whether you live in Malibu, The Hampton’s or a middle class neighborhood in any state in this country. This stigma should not be custom tailored for one group of people and not for another.

I’ve watched both Johnny Depp and Joaquin Phoenix show up for interviews on late night tv completely stoned. Did anyone make then feel dirty or disposable. Nope, the audience and the show’s host just thought it was the funniest thing ever. I watched in anger thinking what a pitiful society we have become to think being publicly drunk or stoned is acceptable depending on who you are. If anyone in the audience was displaying the behavior that was being displayed on stage I’d bet security would be called and then the police. Since when does who you are dictate what acceptable behavior is.

My hope is that one day society will stop accepting overdose deaths as a tragedy for some and a self inflicted choice for others. No one deserves to die from an overdose. Examples need to be set that no matter who you are there is nothing funny about addiction. The double standard must stop and every addict should be perceived as someone with a chronic sometimes fatal disease.

Until society changes its perception of addiction and realizes that it is a disease that knows no boundaries, beautiful people will continue to die. Rich and famous or poor and unknown it really doesn’t matter. Like I said, an addict is an addict. All dying of the same demons.