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A Chronic Pain Patient's Response to Macklemore's 'Drug Dealer'

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Dear Macklemore,

While I appreciate that you use your fame to try and influence people to make a positive difference, I believe your latest political statement is victimizing millions of people who are not even mentioned in your song “Drug Dealer.” You have taken a complex and deeply personal issue and generalized the subject while minimizing the people you are singing about. Your song is a perfect summation of what is wrong with the media’s “war on drugs,” and may cause more damage than you, or the media, have even considered.

My two major problems with “Drug Dealer” are this: 

1. You blur the difference between drug addicts and responsible patients; and

2. You disregard the legitimacy of people with chronic disease and the doctors who care for them.

The results are so catastrophic for us that people are dying. No, not from overdoses like you and the media seem to think is the only way to die from prescription medication, but from a lack of proper and complete medical care and abandonment by doctors who are now too afraid to care for their patients.

Are you honestly comparing patients taking Suboxene for a legitimate reason to a friend overdosing on illegally-obtained medication? Do you not see how that comparison might do some damage to a pain patient? Your song fails to differentiate between the two, and fails to educate your listeners on the difference between taking medication responsibly and using celebrity status to “doctor-shop” and get whatever medications our heart desires.

Macklemore, you fail to differentiate between heroin and illegally obtained medications and responsible patients. You fail to differentiate between doctors caring for their patients and “pill pushers.” Do you see where I am going with this? Because as a result, you fail to differentiate between drug addicts and patients dependent on their prescribed medication.

I spoke with a woman whose life has been tragically affected by opioids. This is about a mother, a chronic pain patient, whose doctor, out of fear, decided to no longer treat his chronic pain patients. He abandoned her and left her with no medication, no solution and no choices. She became bedridden from the pain, depressed, and eventually killed herself. The scariest part is this is become more and more common — pain patients being denied treatment because of the stigma.

You see, not all doctors are “pill pushers” like you make it seem. And now many patients are being treated like heroin addicts (who do not deserve stigma either, by the way). War veterans, mothers, sons, hard-working people are dying by suicide as they are slowly forgotten about, shunned and turned away by the very people supposed to help them. To go to a pain clinic you must subject yourself to urine tests and random pill counts. The media has painted a blanket picture and left no differentiation between an addict and a pain patient, and “Drug Dealer” is part of the problem.

I met a mother who had lost custody of her son because she is chronically ill and her doctor prescribes pain medication as part of her treatment. Despite her willingness to provide all documentation from her doctor, submit to drug tests and pill counts, she still does not have custody of her own son. She is not a drug addict or a criminal but to the media, the government and the public, there is no difference.

Your song lays out shocking words but leaves out the big picture. It does what it’s supposed to do: scare people into becoming anti-medication.

We do have a problem here in America. You point that out directly and articulately. But the problem is not responsible patients. The problem is that we do not have any alternatives. You point out the problems with Big Pharma, with pill-pushing doctors and with drug addiction. So what solutions do you have? For example, every day, people are getting off their opioids and finding natural relief for chronic pain, anxiety and depression through natural alternatives. But it is an uphill battle for us little people down here, and we sure could use a powerful name like yours behind us. And let’s not forget marijuana which has been proven to have medical uses but in many places is nearly impossible to get. Why not sing about the lack of care for those addicted? Where are the mental health clinics? Where are the solutions? In your expert opinion, what should we do?

I urge you to take the time to listen to the people you are singing about. Not just the addicts, but the pain patients, the mental health patients, the people who depend on medications to get out of bed, to go to work, to take care of their children. The people who have become collateral damage in this war on drugs.


Joanna Dwyer

Wife, mother, full-time worker, blogger, fibromyalgia warrior and chronic pain patient 

Image by alaina buzas

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Originally published: October 18, 2016
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