Workplace wellness

How the Music Industry can Fight the Opioid Crisis

Posted by Cassandra Popescu on August 25, 2019
hand raised up in a concert crowd

For years the music industry has been described by the phrase: “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.” But the glamorization of addiction has left important conversations around mental health and the rising overdose rates out of the equation. This month International Overdose Awareness Day seeks to shine a spotlight on difficult, yet necessary truths we need to face in order to move forward for the health of our community.


We spoke with Faisal Khawaja from Over The Bridge, an organization bringing awareness and overdose prevention training to the music industry, in order to learn more. As music professionals, it’s likely to find ourselves in spaces where our peers or fans may experience an overdose. It’s our responsibility to approach these situations with knowledge, compassion, and understanding. Read on to learn about the history of the opioid crisis and how to receive valuable training that could save a life.


Why are opioid overdose rates still rising?

It’s no secret that drugs have had a place in the music industry for decades. The lives of famous rockstars Janis Joplin, Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols), Phil Lynott (Thin Lizzy) all ended because of opioid overdose.  More recently we have lost Prince, Tom Petty, and Mac Miller.  Despite the fact that most recreational drug use has been declining in Canada for the past 40 years, including opioids (methamphetamine is a notable exception), opioid deaths continue to rise. The problem with opioids in the last 20 years is primarily tied to two drugs: OxyContin and Fentanyl.


OxyContin was touted, by some medical doctors no less, as a safer alternative to other opioids, and with very little addiction potential.  This turned out to be a lie.  A big, fat lie.  EVERY opioid has real addiction potential.  This led to the overprescribing of the drug, and thousands of unsuspecting people became dependent upon OxyContin.  Then it was pulled from the market and replaced by a version of the pill that was not as easy to snort or inject, without a plan to address the dependence that had been created.  This pushed a lot of people to street heroin. That is story number 1.


Fentanyl is a somewhat different, but related, story.   It wasn’t pushed quite as hard as OxyContin by pharmaceutical marketing machines. The catch is, Fentanyl is much, MUCH stronger than OxyContin or morphine. Super cheap synthetic alternatives have cropped up (not pharmaceutical grade). When just a few grains worth can be enough to kill – made by people who are not good chemists – it’s a recipe for disaster.


 How can music industry members help fight Canada’s opioid crisis?

The music industry has the power to create culture and bring about awareness and change internally. If we harness that power, we can also positively impact the choices music fans make. We can use social media to bring attention, not only to the opioid crisis, but what each person can do to fight it.


Each day, thousands of music industry members work as musicians, techs, security, bartenders, door/ticket takers, and promoters who work hundreds of shows across North America and interact with hundreds or thousands of concert-goers per event. We have the social responsibility to take a few minutes to learn how to save a life in case an opioid overdose happens at our event or venue.


What can we do?

Support harm reduction efforts.   It’s proven to save lives and minimize damage. Support Consumption and Treatment Services (CTS) sites. Get trained on giving naloxone – a life-saving treatment for opioid overdoses.  Kits and training are available in most parts of Canada at no charge (for now, at least).  Visit www.GetNaloxone.ca.


Mental health issues and feelings of being unconnected and unsupported are huge factors in contributing to addiction and overdose deaths. Over The Bridge hosts a Facebook peer support group for music industry members to connect with each other and available mental health and addiction supports. Check out www.OverTheBridge.org.


In addition, Unison’s Counselling & Health Solutions connects members of our music community to licensed professionals at no cost. Canadian music professionals can register with Unison and call 1-855-9UNISON to receive help with mental health challenges, so that no one has to feel alone.


About Faisal Khawaja

Faisal Khawaja is a community pharmacist and the Operations Manager at Marchese Health Care.  He has over 25 year’s experience in many areas including diabetes, pain management, mental health, and addiction.  He is a Certified Diabetes Educator and is the palliative care pharmacist for two hospices in the City of Hamilton.  Over the years, he has given lectures on many subjects.  Recently, he has devoted much of his time to building public awareness of the opioid overdose epidemic and providing training to many hundreds of people in several communities in Ontario.


In 2017, Faisal was inspired by OTB’s vision to reach out to those in the music community suffering from addiction and mental health.  Since then, he has worked with OTB on several events, providing substance abuse education and opioid overdose training.  He hopes to contribute ideas, energy, and perspective to OTB’s program development and governance activities.