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I was thirteen years old when I was called to the principal’s office and ushered into a small room. My stepfather was waiting. He hugged me, sat me down, and said to me, “Cyrus, your mother… She’s dead.”
She was found in her bedroom with the anti-anxiety medication Xanax, and a bottle of wine. As the coroner pronounced my mother’s death, he turned to my stepfather and said, “We are seeing this happen all the time.”
Six years later, I was in my apartment cooking dinner while two classmates from San Diego State University crushed Xanax on the kitchen table behind me. Over the crunching sounds, I heard one of them say, “It’s impossible to overdose on this, and if you do you’re an idiot.”
That same semester, another classmate overdosed on prescription painkillers and died.
Xanax is a popular drug on my campus. It’s meant to reduce activity of the central nervous system and medicate anxiety. But it’s often taken recreationally.
The Centers for Disease Control have labeled prescription drug abuse an epidemic. It’s the leading cause of accidental death in the United States, and overdoses have quadrupled in the last 15 years.
I blame “gifting” — that’s what it’s called when pharmaceutical companies give doctors incentives to prescribe their drugs. According to a study from the Pew Trust, the pharmaceutical industry spent 24 billion dollars marketing directly to physicians in 2012, and only 3 dollars billion marketing to consumers.
We need stricter regulation of the medical and pharmaceutical industries that make a living off an epidemic they should be curing.
My mom, Suki Palermo was 47 when she died. I wish I could talk to her, hear her words of wisdom, and show off to her how much her son has grown. I still struggle with her loss, but it hurts worse to see my friends making the same mistakes.
To hear a more in depth version of Cyrus’ story, listen to his podcast here.