“Whitney Legacy” social marketing campaigns focusing on prescription drugs

It was a tragic end for Whitney Houston who possessed a rare ability to sing like an angel. The sad spectre of drugged-out musical legends dying at a young age surrounded by pill bottles, booze and their enablers is well known; Judy Garland at age 47, Elvis Presley at 42, Michael Jackson at 50 and so on.  Even in the case of Houston, her death spiral had been in public view for many years. In all the coverage this weekend in the media, there was very little discussion how this singing legend had fallen into disrepair. Canadians will remember how Houston cancelled a Toronto show at the CNE grandstand, along with her entire Canadian tour in the 90’s. Her people blamed a “persistent throat condition,” though a week from show time only 11,000 of 20,000 seats had been sold. By decade’s end, Houston’s diva status was wobbly. Reports of erratic behaviour and drug addiction intensified after she was fired from performing at the 2000 Academy Awards.

A notorious 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer further stoked speculation as an alarmingly thin, fidgety former diva. A massive publicity blitz included a two-hour sit-down with Oprah Winfrey in which Houston revealed that she and her abusive husband Brown smoked crack. A 2010 European tour, her first in 11 years, was a sad spectacle of missed high notes and cancelled performances. In May 2011, she’d returned to rehab as an outpatient, citing drug and alcohol problems. Recently it was reported she’d been offered a position as a judge on Simon Cowell’s The X Factor. But her personal demons held more interest. The day before her death, the YouTube entertainment show Hollyscoop reported that a “disheveled” Houston—blood on her leg and scratches on her arm—had to be escorted from a Hollywood club with her 18-year-old daughter. The next day she was gone. Source

What can we learn from this past week? Is there a “Whitney Legacy”? Will Americans and Canadians take heart from this terrible tragedy and start numerous social marketing campaigns focused on prescription drugs? Will  The Partnership at Drugfree.org formerly known as the Partnership for a Drug-Free America who has been beating the drums for drugs for decades refocus their efforts on prescription drugs and alcohol? Will social marketers who for years focused most of their attention on illegal drugs start major campaigns across America and Canada on prescription drugs?

According to the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse evidence suggests that Canadians are among the heaviest consumers of psychotropic medication in the world. Will the federal and provincial government initiate campaigns in this area?

Early on in my career, the federal health department produced a number of publications warning about the serious problems with Benzodiazepine and other prescription drugs.  For example in 1981, Health and Welfare Canada published a guidebook, “It’s Just Your Nerves” and in 1982 published and distributed a lengthy document entitled“The Effects of Tranquillization: Benzodiazepine Use in Canada” both expressing considerable concern with benzo use in Canada, extent of use, inappropriate prescribing and serious side effects.

Regrettably, since these publications were produced and distributed, (30 years ago) Health Canada and other stakeholders in Canada have done very little since that time to address the issue of misprescribing, misdiagnosis and mistreatment surrounding these drugs, which has reached epidemic proportions in Canada. Health Canada has produced some information on the misuse of prescription drugs especially opiates but frankly this is woefully inadequate considering the problem.

I certainly hope that in the coming months and years we see a significant uptake in campaigns addressing the serious issues related to prescription drugs. Let’s hope that this becomes “Whitney’s Legacy” besides her wonderful music.


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