Commentary by Bill Buchanan
Singer Amy Winehouse joined the “27 Club” last week. The 27 Club is the tragic group of talented musicians who all died in their 27th year of life. The group includes Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain. All were very creative and talented, but wildly self-destructive. Sadly, each died of drug overdoses, or in the case of Cobain, suicide that was probably heavily influenced by drug use. At this writing, Winehouse’s autopsy was not completed. No drugs were found at her apartment at the time of her death, but she had been in and out of rehab and was an admitted drug-user. It is difficult to believe that drugs did not contribute in some way to her death.
Being a baby boomer, I still love the music of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison (and The Doors), all of which are featured prominently on my iPod. They were three of the musicians who launched my journey into rock ‘n’ roll. Oddly, they all died within a year of each other. I sometimes think about the phenomenal body of music that was never realized due to their untimely deaths.
The Winehouse death sparked a talk with my 20-year-old niece last weekend about addiction. We talked about friends and family who had alcohol and drug problems and what it had cost them —- their jobs, their health, their marriages and, in some cases, very nearly their lives. My niece told me the story of one of her friends who was smart, funny and had a bright future ahead of him. But he dropped out of college after overdosing at a party, and went into rehab. He has spent the last three months living in a halfway house, and hopes to be out in time to return to school in the fall.
Her friend says he hates living in the halfway house, and that he is ashamed of letting his life get so out of hand. He said he just didn’t realize he was spiraling out of control, drinking more and more and taking harder and harder drugs. Rehab seems to have provided him with some clarity of thought and some introspection into his self-destructive actions. I hope he retains that clarity when he re-enters the “real world.” But the odds will be against him, especially if he returns to the environment of his addiction.
Ironically, Amy Winehouse died almost exactly 40 years after President Richard Nixon declared the “war on drugs.” On July 17, 1971, Nixon told Congress that drug addiction in the United States had “assumed the dimensions of a national emergency” and asked Capitol Hill for an initial $84 million for “emergency measures.”
Forty years and billions of dollars later, the drug problem in this country is arguably worse and more widespread than ever. Crack cocaine and meth are everywhere, and abuse of prescription drugs like Oxycontin and other painkillers appears to be on the rise as well.
We don’t seem to have the answer to drug abuse in our country. We have tried enforcement, interdiction, and increased prison time for offenders. It sometimes seems all we have done is to fill up our prisons. Few seem to have the stomach for legalizing hard drugs, which seems like an invitation to addiction.
Drug abuse is a two-headed snake. Until we find a way to cut off both heads, demand and supply, more and more young people will be lost.
What a waste.