“Propelled by an increase in prescription narcotic overdoses, drug deaths now outnumber traffic fatalities in the United States, a Times analysis of government data has found.
Drugs exceeded motor vehicle accidents as a cause of death in 2009, killing at least 37,485 people nationwide, according to preliminary data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fueling the surge in deaths are prescription pain and anxiety drugs that are potent, highly addictive and especially dangerous when combined with one another or with other drugs or alcohol. Among the most commonly abused are OxyContin, Vicodin, Xanax and Soma.
Such drugs now cause more deaths than heroin and cocaine combined.”
Whatever Whitney died of she had no chance of being seen as an innocent victim of an accidental disease.
At the time of writing no one actually knows what caused her death at age 48, but the jokes are already flying because her previous years of cocaine addiction seem to point automatically to problems associated with that as most likely cause.
What is it that seems to make jokes more acceptable about star deaths if they have been drug abusers?
I pulled up short when Amy Winehouse died as most were immediately assuming the same old cause. Mariella Frostrup declaring immediately that “Drugs never looked less glamorous” …a host of celebrities on twitter and other sites hastily paid similar backhanded tributes.
It’s not as if drug deaths were a celebrity issue – we choose not to look at the many tens of thousands whose deaths from one form of drug abuse or another cause personal and economic mayhem in our lives and wider society.
The fact that it turned out to be alcohol, everyone’s (including Mariella) drug of choice, tended to be ignored when it came to making grand statements about the nature of society. The fact that alcohol can kill you other than by driving drunk is not generally felt as a conscious fear among the British public. Even more significantly we look to prescribed drugs, over here almost as much as America these days, seeking alleviation of pain. without ever clocking the sheer weight of numbers of those who find death is the price of such pursuit.
But everyone loves a star – and just as we use drugs, we want to use them for their own purposes.
No matter how close to home that star’s faults may be for the person attaching their own meaning. Perhaps its the closeness of the dead person’s failings to their own that prompts this type of reaction as a defense mechanism, to make sure we do not all look more studiously at death and what it means to us.
I remember when River Phoenix died, I was incredulous that he was a drug user – I had just assumed him to be a clean living actor, and with Heath Ledger and Michael Jackson I was equally shocked, drugs being by prescription makes no difference to dying.
Let’s see if Whitney’s cause of death turns out to be drug abuse – and how different the reactions will be if it turns out to be prescribed drugs or illegal ones… or something else altogether.