Dear Saturday Night Live,
On October 11, 1975, the world watched as you aired the first episode of an iconic television show birthing a new generation of comedians; a live broadcast that lifted the heart of society through pan comedy. With the close of the Vietnam war, your timing was perfect. And your success unparalleled. Over the past four decades, you’ve aired 802 episodes and received over 40 awards.
You were loved by millions. Until now.
Your satire commercial featuring "Heroin AM" is horrifying and detrimental to millions of Americans. Have you lost your senses? Are your writers all on vacation?
Image source: YouTube
“I want to use heroin. But I also want to get stuff done. That’s why I reach for Heroin AM, the only non-drowsy heroin on the market,” touts your actress while sitting on the sofa alongside a young boy. On behalf of the millions who have witnessed the fallout of addiction firsthand, I am dumbfounded by your choice of material.
Do you remember John Belushi? A very talented actor who gained fame from your stage, his death devastated millions of fans around the world when he died from a combination of cocaine and heroin in 1982. How about Chris Farley, another talented SNL actor who died in 1997? Another life snuffed out by a drug overdose.
Saturday Night Live, you just threw two of your own under the bus. What in the world were you thinking?
According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, over 23 million addicts walk American streets, an epidemic that costs our country nearly $200 billion every year. And it's isn't going anywhere anytime soon.
According to the American Society of Addictive Medicine, addiction is a complex disease of the brain and quitting takes more than good intentions or strong will. The National Institute of Health invests over $32 billion annually on medical research, but a quick look at the allocation would suggest that the diseases receiving the most research dollars are those with the noisiest advocacy groups. The few advocating on behalf of the opioid epidemic and its victims just suffered a huge blow, thanks to you.
Meanwhile, bereaved parents who have lost a child to an overdose sit helplessly watching as our country dedicates millions of dollars to fight the rare Zika virus affecting less than 500 American citizens, because of the widespread belief that their child brought it upon themselves.
Making fun of such a disease promotes the erroneous notion that addicts lack a moral compass. The stigma remains that people choose to put that bottle to their lips, that powder to their nose, or that liquid into their vein, resulting in very little advocacy to prove otherwise. And so over 20 million American addicts remain helpless and hopeless.
Saturday Night Live, no child ever says they want to grow up to become an addict.
Substance abusers are very aware of the destruction and heartache their disease causes. They are aware of the stigma they carry, how they are deemed the lowest of the low by societal standards. They are aware that not only are they unloved, but often disowned by family, friends and society. They are routinely kicked to the curb and thrown under the bus.
In November 2015, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spoke about his mother’s addiction to nicotine and her subsequent lung cancer. Rightfully so, he opined that his mother didn’t deserve to die simply because of her nicotine addiction. “Yet somehow if it’s heroin, or cocaine, or alcohol we say, well they decided, they get what they deserve.” Christie added, “The 16-year-old teenage girl on the floor of the county lockup addicted to heroin? I’m pro-life for her, too.” Thank you, Gov. Christie. You nailed it.
The destruction left in the wake of the opioid epidemic is staggering. Failed admissions to inpatient facilities offering mainly psychotherapy and coping skills would suggest that this mainstream treatment strategy is largely ineffective. Yet it remains the only hope for millions of addicts because of lack of advocacy on their behalf.
A disease of the brain lacking advocacy because of the destruction it leaves behind became fodder for your script writers? Would you dare make fun of cancer? Or cystic fibrosis?
Addicts don’t like being addicts. True story.
Saturday Night Live, as long as you use addiction as comedic material, many will continue to erroneously believe that addiction is “all in our head.” Society will continue to believe that those suffering from substance abuse bring it upon themselves because they “choose” to use.
Medical science has proven it is a terrible disease of the brain, a disease that destroys relationships, careers and lives. On behalf of bereaved parents who have lost a child to an overdose, who sit helplessly watching as our country dedicates millions of dollars to a rare virus affecting fewer than 500 Americans, I am filled with outrage.
It’s one thing to ignore the plight of 23 million Americans. It’s another to laugh at it. Your commercial parody about “Heroin AM” is another nail in their coffin.
And there is absolutely nothing funny about that.
Lynda Cheldelin Fell is the creator of Grief Diaries, a book series dedicated to exploring life challenges and losses.
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