Music industry mishandles substance abuse

Ketti Horton, Staff Writer

The music industry is a place beaming with talent, yet so many seem to be taken too soon. Included in this phenomenon is the strange, coincidental group of musicians who all died at the age of 27, collectively called the “27 Club.”  Some well known members include Amy Winehouse, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain. These are all some of the world’s most renowned artists who had their lives claimed by drug overdose or complications from drug usage. Rather than address the issues of drug addiction, laced and tampered with drugs and improper harm reduction techniques, people chalk it up to conspiracy because a few artists happened to all die at 27. Substance abuse and addiction within the music industry are real problems that need to be addressed. The Newport Institute reported in an article that people use “party drugs” as a form of self-medicating to help soothe anxiety, depression and trauma. Party drugs like cocaine, Molly (MDMA), acid and ketamine all have extremely addictive qualities. Young artists blooming into stardom are trying to learn and navigate an entirely new way of life. Being handed drugs as a way to cope with this could lead them down a destructive and even lethal path.

Drug usage in the music industry has become  normalized, with song titles like “Heroin” by Lana Del Rey and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” an acrostic for LSD by The Beatles. While the titles themselves may not inspire the audience to do drugs, they are certainly still reflections of the messages found in lyrics. Not only are the titles used as innuendos, but songs’ lyrics can also be full of references to drug use. Musical artist Lil Peep wrote the line “Sixteen lines of blow and I’m fine” for his song “16 Lines.” A reference to heroin use can be found in a song by British indie-pop band The 1975 where singer Matty Healy says, “And all I do is sit and think about you, if I knew what you’d do, collapse my veins, wearing beautiful shoes.” The song is titled “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You).” Lead singer Healy struggled with heroin addiction, but has been sober for almost four years now. In a 2018 Billboard article, Healy said to his bandmates in reference to his addiction, “If you want songs, you’re just going to have to get on with it”. He said that the morning after he made this remark is when he decided he needed to get sober. Although the inclusion of lyrics referencing drug use doesn’t suggest an overdose or death, there is still a major problem regarding drugs in the music industry, especially in the hard rock genre.

Young artists blooming into stardom are trying to learn and navigate an entirely new way of life. Being handed drugs as a way to cope with this could lead them down a destructive and even lethal path.”

In the 80’s, usage of cocaine was at its peak popularity according to NPR. Lead singer of rock band Motley Crue, Vince Neil, was charged with vehicular manslaughter when getting in a head-on car crash in December of 1984. He was behind the wheel and on a slew of different drugs and hit a car head-on, killing the band Hanoi Rocks’ drummer, Razzle. Separately, bassist Nikki Sixx was also briefly declared dead due to a heroin overdose, prompting the band to release a song titled “Kickstart My Heart” in reference to Sixx getting defibrillated inside an ambulance

Motley Crue were certainly not the only 80’s musicians to have had extreme drug usage like this. According to a podcast with Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee and rapper Machine Gun Kelly, rock singer Ozzy Osbourne once did the drug acid every day for a year straight. The effects of taking a psychedelic drug once a day for 365 days on the brain is unknown, but in a review from 2020, the National Library of Medicine found that cases of prolonged hallucinogen use have resulted in behavioral changes, anxiety, depression and other substance misuses. Osbourne was notorious for his extreme stage antics, which once included biting the head off a live bat and spitting it back on the ground. His wife, Sharon Osbourne, was asked in an interview with Variety Magazine when she first thought her husband had a drinking problem.

“I knew nothing about alcoholism. Nothing,” Sharon Osbourne said. “I had worked with a lot of musicians, a lot of actors. And I just thought that’s how people are when they drink. I just thought, ‘OK. They just like to drink.’ That was it. I understood nothing about the ‘-ism.’”

Osbourne’s quote shows there was little education on substance abuse in the world of music and fame.  

In their autobiography “The Dirt,” Motley Crue said their excessive drug use was mostly because of stress of tour life and the need to be energetic to perform exhausting shows every night for months at a time. Current musicians still use drugs but in different ways. British pop singer Harry Styles said in an interview with Howard Stern that he took psilocybin mushrooms, known as shrooms, while writing his second album, “Fine Line.” Styles said he took them to try to “enhance the creative process,” which ended up causing the singer to bite the end of his tongue off because he jumped out of a second-story window and hit his chin on his knee. While a micro dosage of psilocybin, which is the psychoactive in mushrooms, has been used in studies at Johns Hopkins University to help reduce depression, the study only applies to thata micro dosage. The root of the issue isn’t drug usage in general, it’s the volume of drugs being consumed by those making music. 

Drug tampering, or laced drugs, are another issue found within the industry. Singer and songwriter Lil Peep died of a fentanyl overdose two weeks after his 21st birthday. Lil Peep was known for singing about his struggles with mental health and substance abuse. He died after taking a Xanax pill laced with fentanyl, which is a method used by drug dealers to make cheaper pills and get people more heavily addicted, according to rehabilitation center New Found Life. Fentanyl is much more potent than morphine, so regular Xanax users may take their normal amount and end up overdosing.

Big record label executives are caring more about creating a profit than the health and wellbeing of their clients. Higher-ups in the music industry are looked up at and should be a source of comfort rather than purely business.”

Talented up-and-coming artists like Lil Peep, Mac Miller and Juice Wrld are having their lives claimed by drug addiction and overdose far too soon. The music industry lures them into a culture in which copious amounts of drug use is typical activity. Young artists should be encouraged to make music with their own freedom without relying on the usage of drugs to aid them in the transition from living a private life to being constantly in the public eye. Instead, they are entering into an industry which is notorious for its drug usage. 

Members of the music industry need to take responsibility for the amount of drug usage taking place. Big record label executives are caring more about creating a profit than the health and wellbeing of their clients. Higher-ups in the music industry are looked up at and should be a source of comfort rather than purely business. Whether it be through record labels implementing certain “no-tolerance” policies for their signees or agents taking the splicing and lacing of drugs issue more seriously by giving their clients drug testing kits as a form of harm reduction, music agencies need to take action against substance abuse disorders to protect their clients. That being said, these issues can not be solved overnight. It will take time, but there are certainly still ways to create a safer environment for gifted artists looking to expand their careers. Substance abuse, specifically in the music industry, always has, and probably always will be an issue. It’s difficult to be certain of one way to handle the problem, but doing nothing certainly is not a fix.  While drug culture may always be pertinent in the music industry, there can’t be another day letting talented and creative minds get stolen by something so dangerous yet preventable.

Do you think people in positions of power need to combat drug abuse in the music industry? Let us know in the comments below.