Macklemore and President Obama Tackle Painkiller Addiction in New MTV Documentary

Painkiller addiction and resulting overdose deaths have become an epidemic not only in the US, but all over the world. In a new documentary on MTV, rapper Macklemore teams up with President Obama to figure out why the epidemic is happening and what can be done to stop it.

Macklemore and Obama on Painkiller Addiction in New Documentary


  • “Within in a week,” Macklemore said, “I was isolated in my room doing this drug, just to stay alive in a way.”
  • In a recent MTV documentary, recovering opioid addict Macklemore shares his OxyContin experience with President Obama.

Last year, American hip hop artist Macklemore released a song entitled ‘Kevin’, about a friend of his who overdosed on drugs, in an effort to bring attention to the painkiller overdose epidemic in the US. This October, the artist teamed up with none other than President Obama in the MTV documentary Prescription for Change: Ending America’s Opioid Crisis, in which both Macklemore and President Obama open up about their past drug abuse.

Prescription for Change: Ending America’s Opioid Crisis

The 40-minute documentary begins by following Macklemore to an addiction recovery group where members open up about their past drug abuse.

“I broke my wrist and then it caused me to get my first prescription of Vicodin. I mean I’d heard about people getting hooked and I never thought it would happen to me. I was convincing myself it wasn’t a problem. I found out that I was full of s**t.”

– Justin, group member

“I remember in the 5th grade I came home and was just going through my mom’s medicine cabinet and that’s when I started opiates. Like by the grace of God I am in this seat today. Because I lost 11 of my really close friends to this disease.”

– Female group member

Each person who shares their story has a different beginning, and the drugs vary between the most common opioids – heroin, OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet – but each story ends with addiction, many having lost friends and loved ones to overdose along the way. Thankfully, many of the addicts featured have sought opioid addiction treatment and are on their way to recovery. But that is not the case for thousands of other addicts across the nation. In 2014, the number of opioid-related overdose deaths was more than 14,000, an increase of over 400% since 1999.

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What is Causing America’s Opioid Epidemic?

In the early ‘90s, prescription opioids were considered dangerous by most doctors and were used only primarily for patients who were in extreme pain and incredibly ill, most often for terminal cancer patients. In 1996, however, the pharmaceutical corporation Purdue Pharma came out with OxyContin, a sustained-release opioid painkiller the company claimed was safe enough for use in patients who were not terminally ill.

Purdue Pharma spent millions of dollars on an aggressive marketing campaign that sold OxyContin as an opioid painkiller that did not have the same addictive qualities as other, more common opioids – due mainly to the time-release quality of the pill which allows controlled amounts of the drug to be released into the body throughout the day.

The marketing campaign worked, and within the first year Purdue Pharma recorded OxyContin sales at approximately $46 million – a measly amount compared to the $1.7 billion of the drug sold through doctors and hospitals across the country in 2004. Doctors became quick to prescribe OxyContin for all sorts of pain, including trauma, sports injuries and more. As far as sales were concerned, OxyContin was a success. The problem, however, was that the company’s claim that the drug was not addictive was false. As sales increased, so did the number of prescription drug addictions and fatal overdoses.

OxyContin, Vicodin, Percocet: Why are Prescription Painkillers so Addictive?

In the recent MTV documentary, recovering opioid addict Macklemore shares his OxyContin experience with President Obama. Macklemore recounts,

“Within in a week, I was isolated in my room doing this drug, just to stay alive in a way.”

President Obama did not have any personal experience with the drug to share in exchange, but he did seem to understand how addiction takes hold.

“For me, when I was a teenager I used drugs and I drank. I pretty much tried whatever was out there, but I was in Hawaii and it was a pretty relaxed place. I was lucky that I did not get addicted, except to cigarettes, which took me a long time to kick. But it does seem as if the speed with which you can get hooked on opiate-based medicines is fierce.”

And the President could not be more correct. In Macklemore’s case, OxyContin took over his life in just one week. And while the amount of time in which a person can become addicted to the drug varies, the fact remains that it is highly addictive.

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How Opiates Work in the Brain

Opioids are produced naturally in the body and attach themselves to opioid receptors when you hurt yourself in order to reduce your feelings of pain. These natural opioids only work, however, on low levels of pain. And that is where prescription opioids come in – they work in the same way, but can decrease very large levels of pain.

Unfortunately, prescription painkillers also release a large amount of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a natural chemical that is released into what is called the ‘reward centre’ of the brain  when a human does something that is important for basic survival. This release of dopamine is what ingrains human instinct to eat, drink, mate, or basically survive. When dopamine is created by prescription drugs, the body and mind then believe that the drug is something it needs for survival, and will continue to seek it out. This is why, as President Obama states in the documentary, “(People have been known to) take a few of these painkillers and next thing you know… they were doing things they would never believe they were capable of doing in order to get more of those drugs.”

(For a more in-depth look at how the brain’s reward system works in addiction, see: Drug Abuse, Dopamine and the Reward System Explained)

Effective Opioid Addiction Treatment at The Cabin Chiang Mai

The Macklemore and Obama documentary has shed light on a serious problem that is plaguing not only the US, but people from countries all around the globe. In many cases, people who have been prescribed opioids end up taking heroin because they have built up a tolerance to the prescription or cannot get it anymore, and heroin is available on the street. What started out as a sports injury or car accident can quickly turn into a serious addiction. And in most cases, professional treatment is needed in order to recover.

At The Cabin Chiang Mai, we work with a team of experienced counsellors to deliver a unique and effective addiction programme that has helped thousands of people break free from their addictions. If you or a loved one are struggling with opioid addiction, contact us today for a free consultation to see how we can help.

**Note: You can watch the full documentary here: Prescription for Change: Ending America’s Opioid Crisis