Macklemore and Obama Tackle Opioid Epidemic on MTV

By Zachary Siegel 10/13/16

Rapper Macklemore interviews Obama for a new MTV documentary which explores the nation's opioid crisis.

Macklemore and Obama Tackle Opioid Epidemic on MTV
Photo: via YouTube

“My name is Ben, and I’m an addict” is the opening line of MTV’s new documentary Prescription for Change: Ending America’s Opioid Crisis. But you probably know Ben better by his artist name: Macklemore. 

Macklemore has rapped about his struggles with addiction, and is part of numerous campaigns that aim to end stigma. He plays host in the documentary, which is a mashup of his experiences alongside those who frequent Seattle’s Recovery Cafe, a space that provides community for people trying to kick a habit that thrives in isolation. 

President Obama is also prominently featured throughout, emphasizing that addiction is not a crime but a public health problem that needs to be addressed without locking people up. Obama is quick to note that because the face of opioid use is now younger and whiter, people are quick to get on board with this notion, that addiction is a medical condition that needs to be treated and not criminalized. The victims of the crack epidemic in the '80s and ‘90s were mostly sent to jail. 

The documentary aired during a critical time. The opioid crisis is one of few in America that continues to worsen. It’s almost a monthly occurrence now for Rust Belt cities to experience outbreaks of hundreds of overdoses caused by powerful synthetic analogs of the deadly painkiller fentanyl. Now that the problem has everyone’s attention, solutions need to come. 

One of the desperate characters the documentary follows is a young woman named Alaina. Her first time sharing her story during a recovery meeting is a visceral moment. She says she is ready to give up heroin, that it isn’t the life she wants to live, yet we see her continue to struggle. That is the crux of addiction. Usually we reach a point where we want to quit, but the compulsion to use is so strong that it feels like an insurmountable goal. 

But Obama, who is interviewed by Macklemore, is optimistic that the problem is solvable. The president says people must first understand that seeking help for their addiction is the strong thing to do. Then, without going into much detail, he says treatment needs to be more scientific. While places like the Recovery Cafe provides community and support, drug users need evidenced-based, clinically rigorous treatment beyond going to meetings and chanting “God, grant me the serenity.” 

There are proven solutions. Medications like buprenorphine and methadone, expanding access to naloxone and providing non-judgmental, compassionate care for drug users are only a few ways to begin rolling back the stunning death toll.

Check out the full documentary below:

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.