2018 / 8 September

Overdose is a policy issue, not an individual one.

By Artem Bali for Unsplash


We just lost another celebrity, Mac Miller, to overdose. In the midst of reading expressions of grief and shock from his friends and fans, headlines suggest that many blame his passing on his break-up with Ariana Grande. Apparently the vitriol being launched at her was enough for her to shut down her instagram account temporarily.  

And across the country, we are seeing an alarming trend wherein friends and loved ones are being blamed for the overdose deaths of individuals- even going so far as to being charged with homicide. Over 20 states have drug-induced homicide laws on the books, intended to charge dealers for selling drugs that eventually led to an overdose death. However, these laws end up being used to prosecute friends and co-users who were present or who may have bought the drugs together.

If anyone is to blame for overdose deaths, it’s our policies and not individuals.

Why are people blaming Grande for Miller’s death? Because they believe that the pain of the breakup put him on a downward spiral that inevitably led to his death. Why are friends being charged with overdose deaths when they might have been using those very drugs themselves too? Because we believe that they contributed to the individual’s use that also led to their death.

Here’s the problem with both lines of thinking- we’re pinning the blame on individuals when none of these deaths would have happened if our drug policies were different.

Overdose death is not an inevitable consequence of addiction. Ask Portugal. Ask France.

We know that the criminalization of drugs and paraphernalia are one of the biggest barriers to calling 911 during an overdose. If not for this known barrier to calling 911, we would have never have had to pass Good Samaritan Laws to try to exempt some people from criminalization if they call 911 in good faith to save someone’s life. However, with the growing use of drug-induced homicide charges, people are reporting fears to call 911 once again. Whereas people feared arrest for drugs and paraphernalia before, now the charge could be homicide. (It also cannot stressed strongly enough that, if not for supply side enforcement, our illicit heroin supply would not have been adulterated with fentanyl. And fentanyl has clearly driven our overdose crisis in recent years.)

Mac Miller was found at noon. Was he using alone? Or were his friends afraid of calling 911 while they were using with him? We may never know. But this has nothing to do with Grande, it has to do with drug policies that brought us to this place.

We need a fundamental reframing here. I’m done blaming individuals for our overdose crisis. It’s time to zoom out and look at the role that our policies have played.