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How the music industry can help reduce deaths

After decades in the music industry, I've seen just about everything there is to see. I've seen talented people become superstars in a matter of weeks.

But great talent often comes with great struggle, and the intensely private pain of not knowing how to cope with all of fame's demands. Many of my closest friends have struggled with drug addiction. Some have worked through it; others weren't as lucky.

Aug. 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day, a time to recognize loss associated with overdose, and to call for policy changes that save lives.

Drug overdose happens everywhere and has been getting a lot worse in recent years. In 2007, the last year for which data is available, more than 27,000 people died from an accidental drug overdose in America. That's the highest number of accidental overdose deaths ever.

It's stunning that so few people even know about this. This issue needs to be addressed, but rarely is. It's an ugly elephant in the room. But we need to say it, and start talking about it.

The truth is, people don't like to talk about overdose because it's so easy and convenient to blame the victim.

The chorus of "Take no pity!" that rang out following the death of Amy Winehouse was a real eye-opener for me. (Toxicology results showed no illegal drugs in her system when she died.) The typical response to drug use is to condemn the person who does it. All compassion is routinely discarded.

Most of these deaths are easily preventable. The solutions are no mystery, and two stand out as no-brainers.

The first is expanding access to naloxone, a cheap, non-narcotic, generic drug proven to reverse the effects of opiate overdose and restore breathing. By simply expanding access to it we can prevent thousands of deaths each year.

The other is passing "911 Good Samaritan" laws. Overdose witnesses are usually scared to call for help because they, or the victim themselves, frequently face arrest for possessing small amounts of drugs. New York just became the fourth state that allows people to call 911 when witnessing an overdose without fear of prosecution.

I'm calling on radio stations everywhere to help spread the word on International Overdose Awareness Day by playing music by bands that have lost a member to an overdose, like Sublime, Blind Melon, Hole, Alice in Chains, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the Ramones. Music by legends like Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin. I hope that radio stations will mention Overdose Awareness Day and give out the website so listeners can learn more.

Overdose has been in the news a lot lately. We can save a lot of lives by educating people how to prevent, recognize and respond to an overdose -- and simply by talking about it.


Jason Flom is the president of Lava records and former CEO of Atlantic Records, Virgin Records and the Capitol Music Group. He is also on the board of directors of the Drug Policy Alliance.

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