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EDITORIAL: Celebrities can help curb crisis with addiction
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EDITORIAL: Celebrities can help curb crisis with addiction

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A major problem growing out of the coronavirus pandemic is drug abuse/misuse. U.S. overdose deaths soared to a record 93,000 in 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The U.S. government estimate far eclipses the high of 72,000 drug overdose deaths reached the previous year and amounts to a 29% increase.

Brandon Marshall, a Brown University public health researcher who tracks overdose trends, said to The Associated Press: “This is a staggering loss of human life.”

Experts attribute the increase to lockdowns and pandemic restrictions that isolated those with drug addictions and made treatment harder.

While abuse of prescription drugs remains a problem, the majority of overdose deaths now are being attributed to fentanyl. Developed to treat intense pain from ailments like cancer, fentanyl has increasingly been sold illicitly and mixed with other drugs. Fentanyl was involved in more than 60% of the overdose deaths last year, CDC data suggests.

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“What’s really driving the surge in overdoses is this increasingly poisoned drug supply,” Shannon Monnat, an associate professor of sociology at Syracuse University who researches geographic patterns in overdoses, told AP. “Nearly all of this increase is fentanyl contamination in some way. Heroin is contaminated. Cocaine is contaminated. Methamphetamine is contaminated."

The good news is there being no evidence that more Americans started using drugs last year. Rather, the increased deaths most likely were people who had already been struggling with addiction, Monnat said.

South Carolinians believe celebrity influencers can play a key role in being sure that more people do not gravitate to drug use.

The internet can make nearly any topic go viral – including substance use awareness. The tag #sober currently has more than 3.2 million posts on Instagram and #soberlife has over 1.7 million, which indicates the power of social media when it comes to conversations about addiction and recovery.

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LagunaTreatment.com conducted a survey of 3,000 social media users and found that over 1 in 3 (34%) social media users in South Carolina say influencers are strong advocates for addiction awareness and substance abuse prevention. More than a third of respondents believe celebrities have a social responsibility to promote a clean, substance-free lifestyle, given the spectrum of their following.

When it comes to sharing research-based and scientific information on social media, rampant misinformation can make it very difficult. In fact, during the pandemic, Instagram updated its moderation policy as part of an attempt to prevent the spread of misinformation. For this reason, it makes sense why 1 in 5 people think influencer posts promoting addiction awareness should be accompanied by links to medically-approved sources on the topic.

Of its over 600 million users, around 55% of Instagram profiles belong to people between the ages of 18 and 29. Given that many young people have access to the internet and social media platforms, nearly half (42%) of respondents also say social media companies should have stricter policies on celebrities and influencers glamorizing drugs and alcohol.

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As much as the influence of celebrities will continue, and likely grow because of social media, people from young to elderly would be wise to realize their influence will never be all positive. Nor will it be all negative. It would be ideal, however, if celebrities could help our country move away from substance abuse and addiction.

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