The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

Shedding new light: Celebrity drug overdoses, deaths draw attention to substance abuse to light

By Nur-Ul-Huda Mujahid

Staff Writer


The deaths of celebrities like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cory Monteith, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston bring the vices of drug addiction to the forefront of society, but an innumerable amount of people die each day due to substance abuse. 

According to the Center for Disease Control, “Every day in the United States, 105 people die as a result of drug overdose, and another 6,748 are treated in emergency departments (ED) for the misuse or abuse of drugs.”

Most recently, the tragic death of Hoffman on Feb. 2 caused uproar in the media. Hoffman was found with a syringe in his left arm, and the cause of death was acute mixed drug intoxication. According to the New York medical examiner’s office, heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines and amphetamine were found in Hoffman’s system.

Glenn (Pete) Smith Jr., associate professor in the Mississippi State University Department of Communication, said the media carefully covered all aspects of Hoffman’s life and reputable news sources refrained from sensationalizing reports dealing with addiction.

“Some sources are very dramatic, but I feel that Hoffman’s death was covered quite accurately from credible news sources,” he said. “In this one instance, they did a nice job understanding and covering Hoffman’s back story.”

Keenyn R. Wald, MSU’s Student Counseling Services counselor, said he had a different outlook on the way the media portrays drug addiction.

“The media can put a particular spin on things — Britney shaving her head, Lindsay falling over drunk. That’s not fun,” he said. “We only see parts of these celebrities’ lives. In essence, normal people that die every day have talents as well, but we don’t hear about them. That’s part of the insidiousness of addiction.”

Kim Kavalasky, Coordinator of Mental Health Outreach in the Department of Health Education and Wellness, spoke on the merits of Student Counseling Services and said the service provides support for those struggling with various disorders.

“This is an organization on campus for students who are in recovery from substance use disorders and eating disorders,” she said. “When one speaks about the tragedy of addiction, I think it is always important to emphasize that recovery is possible.”

Smith said he believes the media does not sway one’s decision to succumb to drug addiction. 

“I don’t feel like the media influences people to do drugs because there are just so many factors related to cause and effect,” he said. “Why someone becomes addicted to drugs depends on a number of factors, including socialization. There is little evidence to support mediated behavior.”

Wald said society views addiction as choice-driven and as a moral issue when addiction is a serious brain disorder that requires medical treatment.

“We don’t treat drug addiction as the public issue that it really is. Instead, we treat it as a moral issue. People need to understand that addiction is a brain disorder, and people lose the power of choice in a sense,” he said. “They have a hard time living life not high. The world sees them as morally wrong, but it truly is a brain disorder, and they need help.”

Smith said the deaths of actors and singers in the limelight cause chatter over serious issues like drug addiction, but because the media places a great deal of emphasis on relevance, the conversation never reaches the point where change can ensue.

“These celebrity deaths create great discussion about drug addiction for a short period of time and why it happens, but the problem is that it is only for that short amount of time,” he said. “The system is broken because we blame the victim so much.”

True understanding of addiction, Smith said, comes when individuals realize that addiction is the same whether the individual is an Oscar-winning actor or a neighbor two blocks away.

“I wish that, as a society, we realize these celebrities are no different from that drug-addicted person in any small town,” he said. “I feel that we have a responsibility to create a dialogue that will lead to change, but that will require us talking about these instances in a different light.”

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Shedding new light: Celebrity drug overdoses, deaths draw attention to substance abuse to light