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Why Macklemore's 'Drug Dealer' Makes Me Question How Doctors Treat Chronic Illness

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By now, you’ve probably heard Macklemore’s new song, “Drug Dealer,” and wrestled with the range of emotions it elicits. Perhaps you are reminded of a friend or loved one who struggles with addiction. Perhaps you, yourself have fought the fight. I think it’s important to also open up the floor to other ways people may be connecting to this directly honest pop hit.

For me personally, I immediately wanted to like the song. Having watched drugs take hold of close friends’ lives slowly and then all at once, I support any attempt to draw awareness to the problem, particularly with regards to prescription meds as Macklemore’s video does. But then I started listening closer to some of the drugs listed in the lyrics. I got defensive. I got nervous that one of my medications for chronic pain or anxiety may be listed. I started feeling self-conscious. I started feeling ashamed. In the end, I felt angry.

Because like so many of us who call ourselves “the Mighty,” I have found functionality in a bottle. After years of pushing them off, I now take pills that suppress the pain caused by my fibromyalgia and clear my mind of the record-loops it gets caught on by some physiological imbalance. Don’t get me wrong, I take self-care seriously. I exercise, and meditate, and attend my appointments, but those pills are what allow me to get out of the tub on the bad days. They’re what allow me to walk out in the rain without counting down the minutes until the flare-up hits. I need them.

And just like that, in my self-justification I’m faced with a question: Does that need make me an addict? Does my dependence pathologize me? As the song says, “My drug dealer is a doctor,” so what does that say about those who use street drugs to cope? Am I really that much different?

Then, before I get too much further down that mind track, the song continues:

He said that he would heal me, heal me
But he only gave me problems, problems

And suddenly I realize that beneath all the other feelings this song draws out of me, more than anything else, I’m angry. Because it seems hardly any doctors out there are trying to “heal” fibromyalgia. In fact, I think you’re lucky if you get one that takes you seriously enough to call it an illness. Same thing with mental illnesses. Instead of addressing triggers, instead of looking at the problem from a person-in-environment perspective, instead of acknowledging the power of intuition or natural knowledge, I was offered the brand of pills that was most advertised.

To me, Macklemore’s new song isn’t about the prevalence of prescription drug addiction or the troubles those affected face. I mean, it is, but it isn’t. The way I see it, “Drug Dealer” is a great, big finger point at the “healers” out there who spend more time listening to Big Pharma than listening and collaborating with their patients.

Now don’t get me wrong, not all doctors are simply drug dealers. Many care deeply about the well-being of their patients. Likewise, not all medications are inherently bad, as long as they are used as prescriptive tools rather than easy write-offs. Nevertheless, the truth stands that “Drug Dealer” has earned nearly 7 million views in just one week. The people I’ve seen writing about it aren’t the typical Top 40 reviewers, but rather social critics like NPR. Clearly, there’s a stinging string of truth that’s hit during the song.

Can we talk about that?

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Originally published: November 2, 2016
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