According to recent reports, Whitney Houston may have died from overdosing on Xanax, drinking too much alcohol, and/or drowning in her hotel room bathtub. While many people may have heard of Xanax, very few actually understand how it works and how it could be fatal if used under the wrong circumstances. As numerous Black Americans experience mental health disorders and choose to self-medicate, Whitney Houston’s death asks a larger question. Do we have a growing problem with combining prescription and recreational drugs? Or is Whitney’s death a rarity for our community?
So what is Xanax? It’s a drug that works to slow down chemicals in the brain in order to reduce nervous tension. It’s primarily used to reduce anxiety disorders, panic disorders, and anxiety caused by depression. But its creators also ask for people to take precaution in choosing to take it under certain circumstances. If you’re pregnant, you shouldn’t take Xanax, as it could harm the unborn baby. You shouldn’t take Xanax if drinking, as it could increase the effects of alcohol consumption. And if you have a history of depression, suicidal thoughts, and addiction to drugs or alcohol, Xanax could be detrimental, as it has become an addictive drug for many.
Under these circumstances, it’s questionable why Whitney’s doctor would’ve prescribed this drug knowing her long battle with recreational drug addiction. Xanax’s creators have reported side effects such as depressed moods, suicidal thoughts, unusual sleep patterns, drowsiness, appetite or weight changes, amongst numerous other potential circumstances that would’ve caused Whitney’s ongoing recovery to take a step back.
Reflecting upon Michael Jackson’s death, it draws the question on whether medical professionals are capable of saying “no” to wealthy clients when certain medical decisions are not in their best interest. As many celebrities experience a range of emotions that come with the pressure to perform, sell, and live a fast-paced, paparazzi-stalked lifestyle, alcohol and other recreational drugs have become a norm for self-medicating in the industry, and very few have been able to draw the line between taking prescription medications and their recreational drug activities.
But celebrities are human, and thus, ordinary people also struggle to make this differentiation too. Over 2.3 billion prescription drugs were ordered in the United States in 2008, and the CDC ranked antidepressants as one of the top 3 prescriptions. Approximately 20% of Americans have abused prescription drugs for non-medical purposes, of which Black Americans are likely a minority considering our lack of access to affordable healthcare. While Black Americans are reportedly overrepresented in populations at risk for mental health disorders, including depression, it is unlikely for us to seek professional medical treatment. Instead, many of us choose to self-medicate with alcohol and other recreational drugs, which have become substitute vices for prescription drug abuse. But fame often brings fortune and greater access to medical treatment. And as Black Americans advance economically, even outside the entertainment industry, perhaps there is something to fear, as we have yet to properly deal with mental health in our communities.
Do you think the deaths of Whitney Houston or even Michael Jackson are tragic representations of Black America’s struggle with mental health and drug abuse as a whole? Weigh in.