Macklemore and Obama tackle opioid epidemic in MTV documentary

Every day, 78 people in America die from an opioid overdose, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The opioid epidemic in the United States is on the rise with the number of people addicted and overdosing increasing every year. Given the crisis this is becoming, it's an issue that President Obama has decided to take on in his final year in office.

And who does he have to help him raise awareness? None other than Grammy award-winning hip-hop artist Ben Haggerty, better known as Macklemore.

Macklemore, who has personally struggled with drug addiction, teamed up with President Obama for the MTV documentary "Prescription For Change: Ending America's Opioid Crisis," which premieres on MTV on Oct. 11.

I was fortunate enough to attend an advanced screening last week at the White House along with other GW students, including members of Students for Recovery, a campus support group for students dealing with mental illness or substance use disorders. Following the screening, there was a panel discussion on the opioid epidemic which included Michael Botticelli, Director of the Office of National Drug Control policy, and Macklemore himself.

"Being a huge fan of Macklemore, it was very exciting to see him, more like a fangirl moment honestly," said Hannah Grosvenor, a sophomore member of Students for Recovery. "But being there as a member of the recovery community, it was fantastic to see someone come forward with their struggles in order to inspire others to do the same and create a better community for everyone."

She added that her favorite part of the documentary was the Recovery Prayer, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference," which Macklemore's group said to close the film. "There is hope for tomorrow like the prayer suggests," Grosvenor said. "Even if you can't see it, there always is."

The documentary was just as heart wrenching as it is honest; it doesn't glamorize the struggle nor does it try to mask any difficult realities of it.

What I appreciated most about Macklemore's part in this documentary was that it included his own story and his own journey. He didn't just say, "I'm a celebrity, this issue matters"; MTV actually filmed at the recovery group meeting he attends. It's especially powerful considering that rap and hip-hop genres are known for glorifying and promoting drinking and drug use. Macklemore broke this trend and spoke freely about his addiction, even admitting he relapsed after one of his first attempts to get sober. During the panel discussion, he was asked if it was hard to be open about his battle with drugs as a celebrity, to which he responded that his journey was a little different - the first time he got clean, he was a broke rapper living with his parents.

The documentary includes testimonials and conversations between Obama and Macklemore, and general information on the opioid crisis. It also followed the journey of a young woman in Macklemore's group who was struggling to get clean during the film. It's just as heart wrenching as it is honest; it doesn't glamorize the struggle nor does it try to mask any difficult realities of it.

One of the most important points the documentary makes is about stigma, and how we often incorrectly assume that being a drug addict makes someone a bad person. Many people get addicted after being prescribed strong painkillers following surgery or injury; some then move on to harder drugs such as heroin when they develop a tolerance for the pain killers.

The film's greatest asset is its honesty. It does not pretend that getting clean is easy or always done successfully on the first try, but it shows that it is possible and provides information on resources for people struggling with addiction.

The president himself was brutally honest in acknowledging why opioid misuse is just now starting to get the attention it deserves, despite it being a longstanding problem. "The good news is that awareness is starting to rise," he says in the documentary. "And, I'll be honest with you, part of what's starting to change is that the opioid crisis is getting into communities that are suburban, that are relatively well to do, rural communities, white communities, and people's kids who are being affected are folks who have a voice.

Besides being giddy about being in the White House just five feet away from Macklemore, getting to see the documentary and hear the panel discuss struggles and change was an incredible experience that I am certainly glad I missed a class for.

Originally published at by Emily Milakovic on 10.11.16.
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