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‘Heroin AM’: An Insensitive Lesson in Addiction

On April 17th, 2016, Saturday Night Live released a skit that, you guessed it, has received a severe backlash from the community. The fabricated TV commercial advertised a new drug to counteract the effects of heroin, called ‘Heroin AM.’

The opening scene: a Leave it to Beaver mother in a tailored jacket, perfect hygiene, and a smile from ear to ear hands her two children their lunch boxes and says: “I’m a mom, that doesn’t mean I don’t like to have fun.”

Cut a few frames and you have Julia Louis-Dreyfus sitting next to her commercial son on a spotless white couch with bright throw pillows, her MacBook on the table delicately placed next to a coffee mug with butterfly details. Dreyfus effortlessly cuts to the chase, while dawning a lifeless smile: “I want to use heroin, I also want to get stuff done. That’s why I reach for Heroin AM, the only non-drowsy heroin on the market. So I can get jacked on scagg and then get to work.”

It may seem rather surprising that SNL chose heroin as topical content for its skit this past weekend; alcoholism and addiction are rarely discussed in public let alone the feature of a dark, comedic piece on one of the most popular late night TV shows.

This Saturday Night Live skit has successfully hit a nerve in the community of addicts, alcoholics, their loved ones, and anyone who has been directly or indirectly affected by addiction.

Why would a group of comedians make ‘light’ of a fatal drug that has not only affected the community at large but a few of their comrades (notably, John Belushi and Chris Farley) as well? Because Saturday Night Live is notorious for addressing contemporary controversy with relative insensitivity; no topic is off limits to SNL writers.

Addiction has been a prominent topic of discussion in both the Democratic and Republican 2016 primaries with Chris Christie, Jeb Bush, and Carly Fiorina sharing emotional stories of their loved ones suffering from the grips of addiction.

Major publications have produced content addressing the topic of addiction and overdose rates including The Huffington Post, US News & World Report, The LA Times, and more. Addiction, which once was a hush-hush topic rarely discussed outside of the affected nuclear family, is actually news.

Let us, instead of pushing aside the ‘Heroin AM’ skit as insensitive commentary, address the fundamentally valid points of the Saturday Night Live skit and take this opportunity to open up the dialogue surrounding addiction, in an attempt to save the addicts and alcoholics actively suffering from their disease.

Heroin Addiction Can Affect Anyone

The temptation to associate particular characteristics with heroin addiction very much exists. We often perceive drug addicts to be single and homeless with poor hygiene, standing outside of the gas station begging for change for a chance to get their next fix. However, addiction does not discriminate against age, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. Addiction can affect the co-chair of the PTA, a collegiate athlete with a bright future, a single mother with two full-time jobs or a successful lawyer with the potential to become a partner.

The SNL skit portrays two preppy mothers in pearls with beautiful children and an overly involved father coaching his children’s soccer games, as the target audience for ‘Heroin AM.’

Anyone can be affected by addiction, regardless of pecuniary success, physical appearance, a number of cars in the driveway, or lack of cars in the driveway.
Heroin Overdose Rates are on the Rise

The ‘Heroin AM’ skit features a graph displaying the rise of heroin overdoses in an undetermined segment of time. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the number of deaths from heroin overdose has increased from 2,000 in 2004 to approximately 11,000 in 2014.

Heroin is not the only drug affecting American families, the number of deaths from prescription drug overdoses has steadily increased from 15,000 in 2004 to 26,000 in 2014.

Chuck Rosenburg, the acting administrator for the DEA claims: “120 people die each day in the United States of a drug overdose,” reports CNN. Addiction is real, and the numbers prove it.

Though heroin has the reputation that it must be actively sought after by a desperate junkie, SNL makes a valid point that legal variations of these drugs are sold in pharmacies over the counter, prescribed by doctors every day, and easily accessible to many Americans.

A Stigma Very Much Exists Around Addiction

The soccer dad from Saturday Night Live’s ‘Heroin AM’ skit casually mentions: “There was almost a stigma about injecting black tar heroin…” as the camera captures ‘soccer dad’ lying in the grass, face down, while his team runs around the field chasing the soccer ball.

Are drugs bad for you? Sure, if not medically prescribed and taken as needed. However, addicts and alcoholics in the grips of their disease are often treated as if they were the drug; not a human with the disease of addiction, using drugs to fill an incomprehensible void.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse: The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction defines addiction as: “… a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences to the addicted individual and to those around him or her.”

If addiction is defined by a scientific government organization as a ‘brain disease,’ why isn’t an addict treated the same as an individual with Alzheimer’s Disease or an individual with a brain tumor?

Despite medical evidence to the contrary, many people find addiction to be a ‘choice’ rather than a disease.

Thank you, SNL, But You Could Have Done Better

While it’s respected that Saturday Night Live chose to include the heroin epidemic in its topic bank, they could have addressed addiction with a little more sensitivity. Maybe through a tribute to those SNL has lost from their cast as a result of addiction?

Instead of further promoting society’s choice to ignore addiction and avoid conversation, let us use this opportunity to discuss addiction as a disease that continues to affect Americans indiscriminately.

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