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7/27/2009

The RX Crux: When Will The Other Shoe Drop?

More than a month after the untimely death of Michael Jackson, the skeletons moonwalking in the closet are now slowly emerging and uniting to perform the entire ensemble dance routine from "Thriller." This is hardly surprising given the unusual nature of Jackson's life, especially over the last fifteen years. Everything from the true identity of his kids' biological parents to the long-hidden video of his 1984 Pepsi commercial accident to recent word about a possible secret son have been tossed around every major media outlet and medium imaginable.

One recurrent topic, unsurprisingly enough, has been that of Jackson's health. The aforementioned accident during the filming of a Pepsi commercial left Jackson with second and third degree burns to his scalp and face, purportedly igniting (no pun intended) his long-running addiction to prescription medication.

I'm waiting for precedents to be set, especially with the news revealed today that Jackson's in-house doctor prescribed him the drugs believed to kill him. When you think about it, this story could transcend just another iconic footnote in pop culture history and genuinely become a major catalyst for change. One would hope.

Over the weekend, I was with some friends and struck up a conversation about steroid use. Obviously it's been all the talk in the realm of baseball for a number of years. Just last week, MMA fighter Josh Barnett was suspended from an upcoming superfight with consensus number-one ranked heavyweight Fedor Emelienenko after testing positive for a banned substance; namely a metabolite (2a-methyl-5a-androstan- 3a-ol-17-one) of the anabolic steroid Drostanolone.) With baseball already being a known realm for steroid abuse and this being Barnett's second offense in seven years, we postulated about how deep this could run. Eventually, the conversation transitioned quickly to what would possibly happen if NFL players were ever implicated in illegal substance. Almost immediately, all parties conceded that while steroids may be present in professional football, there is likely an even greater dependence on prescription painkillers.

I firmly believe that while PED's aren't exactly good for one's long-term health, painkillers are probably even more detrimental when taken in excess. Think about it... it's no secret that professional wrestling has laid an unfortunate claim to multiple deaths before the age of 50. And yes, in many cases, the departed were known to use PED's. However, one topic often glossed over is the presence of painkillers in the equation. Given the incredibly physical nature of their business, many wrestlers rely heavily on painkillers to numb their bodies in hopes of coping with their grueling schedules. This combination takes a toll on their hearts, ultimately resulting in massive health problems.

The thing is, whether you're a wrestler, a pro athlete or the King of Pop, if you have the right balance of fame and resources, you too can have your on live-in or on-call doctor whenever you need to feel better.

With all the history we have in this nation about the very public "war on drugs," you would think some kind of legislation would come forward to regulate painkillers a little more. These drugs are far more dangerous than the average joint, I don't care how you try to justify it. In fact, when it comes to dealing with pain, pot is probably safer than these pills. I don't even know why I wrote "probably."

Look, it's clear that when you have easy access to these prescrips, it's not hard to develop a chemical or psychological dependence on them. In fact, you need look no further than the average college campus to get a feel for how prevalent they can be. In a day and age where Adderall can be taken down like a bag of Skittles to get through finals week, do you really think it's difficult to get a hold of Percosets or Vicodin? And that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Don't believe these drugs are that severe? Think Jackson was just too accustomed to living to the excess? Chalk up all those wrestler deaths to their just being roid monkeys? Two words: Heath Ledger.

Ledger died when he was just 28 years old. For perspective, I'm 28 now. It was attributed to a bad combination of multiple prescription meds after resulting in sleep deprivation and depression from getting a little too "into" his role as the Joker.

So the question is, what's it gonna take? We live in a prescription-happy culture. Whatever your stance may be on health care, the way it stands now is that too many of our physicians are simply too quick to whip out their ballpoint and write a solution to be cashed in at the local Walgreens. That goes for many psychologists, too. We're a nation predicated on instant gratification in the 21st century. We want it fixed and we want it now. Doesn't matter whether it's our carburetor or our psyche.

I could get into a whole "chicken-and-egg" examination of this paradox and where it began. However, the key thing is what can possibly be done now to rectify the problem.

We've spent so much damn time trying to regulate drug cartels and dealers on the street, maybe it's time to govern these doctors a little more closely. Not everyone has a Michael Jackson-sized payroll to have a live-in doc. However, if people want it or think they need it, they'll go to great lengths to get it. History has proven that.

If there is one possible silver lining in Jackson's shocking death, perhaps it could be in the potential for a precedent being set against pill-pushing. It's just too bad it takes the loss of a public figure of incomparable magnitude to even initiate the dialogue.