How Australian Rapper 360 Nearly Died From Codeine Addiction

By May Wilkerson 01/19/16

The rapper overdosed on morphine pills this time last year.

Stuart Sevastos (Wiki Commons)

Australian Rapper Matthew James Colwell, better known as 360, was half-way through a 16-date tour of the country when he hit rock bottom on his addiction to codeine painkillers and nearly died from an accidental overdose. Now more than a year sober, he has shared his story in a video, prompting calls for stricter regulation of codeine, a legal opiate-based medication which is available over-the-counter in Australia.

In January 2015, the now-29-year-old rapper had taken 120 pills and was found convulsing on the floor of his hotel room, just hours before he was set to take the stage. "I was a zombie, I couldn't feel nothing,” he recalls in a video posted to Facebook. “I smashed four packets because I just wanted to feel something.”

Colwell says he had been addicted to codeine, an opiate derivative of morphine, for years, and had been taking 90 pills a day, every day of his tour leading up to his overdose. In Australia, the drug is legal over-the-counter at pharmacies, where it can be purchased without even showing ID.

Colwell would take the painkillers, in the form of cough medicine Nurofen, when he was traveling. "I went to a bunch of pharmacies and just filled up my luggage with Nurofen Plus,” he says in the video. “Half my suitcase was boxes of it—that was to get me through the tour." When he was back home, he says he would use heroin.

The rapper posted another Facebook video earlier this year where he came out about his struggle with addiction. The video received more than eight million hits and thousands of comments within 10 days, including many from people sharing their own experiences with codeine addiction.

Getting sober has taken its toll on the rapper’s social life, but he says it’s worth it to avoid a lifestyle that could trigger a relapse. "So many friends I used to party with and go on benders with that can't be around anymore because i want to party,” he says. "My social life is terrible, but I'm very happy and glad I'm alive because I should should be dead. I should definitely be dead."

According to Dr. Suzanne Nielsen, from Australia’s National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, 360's experience is not uncommon. "There are only a small number of countries where codeine is available for sale without any prescription," she said. "Most countries do have prescriptions for codeine."

Last year, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, Australia’s equivalent to the FDA, published a report which talked about making codeine-based products prescription only, but they postponed a final decision on the issue until 2016. Dr. Nielsen said she hoped pharmacists would use this time to improve their processes around the sale of codeine products.

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May Wilkerson is a writer, comic and Managing Editor @someecards. Co-host of the podcast Crazy; In Bed w/alyssalimp. She is also the top Google result for "insufferable lunatic." Follow this insufferable lunatic on Twitter.