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Is The American Celeb-Drug Culture Only The Tip Of An Iceberg?

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By Kritika Pramod Kulshrestha:

Drugs and celebrities have shared a volatile relationship in the west since the early 20th century, there have been over 500 celebrity-deaths caused by drug overdose or drug-related crimes since. Acclaimed Australian Hollywood actor, Heath Ledger, died at an early age of 28 from an overdose of a cocktail of prescription drugs and sleeping pills. World renowned African-American R&B Singer, Whitney Houston, died in February 2012 after ingesting more than twelve prescription drugs. Anna Nicole Smith died from an accidental overdose of nearly nine prescription drugs. The list of celebrities who died from prescription drugs overdose is endless; Brittany Murphy, Marilyn Monroe, Dana Plato, Elvis Presley, Judy Garland, and Michael Jackson are among the few celebrities whose deaths made news headlines around the globe.


For the rich and famous in Hollywood, drugs get the ‘party’ started. In recent times, Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan have been found to be in possession and use of cocaine. The drug problem is rapidly growing within the entertainment industry and has also been in existence since a long time now. For celebrities to get their daily dose of drugs, all it takes is a phone call to someone who is ‘connected’ or enjoys privileged access to a supplier. In Los Angeles, the hub of all the glitz and the glamour, there is absolutely no shortage of suppliers who supply cocaine and marijuana. Club parties usually extend into house parties and go on until the wee hours of the morning. Celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan ask friends to come with drugs and not without them; according to sources, Lindsay is friends only with people who have access to the drugs and who are willing to facilitate her habit.

One reason why drugs are so pervasive in celeb land of the West is because celebs are unable to cope with the stress and anxiety in their profession. Since drugs are so widely available, they become more prone to addiction. A cocktail of alcohol, drugs, and other mood altering substances usually are considered to be the secret to nirvana. Western society also fails to provide a support system to the youth. In countries such as India, where the family support system still exists in many corners, drug abuse is less. However, rich parents in Hollywood themselves indulge in drug abuse and then expect their children to do drugs responsibly. Recently, Jon Bon Jovi discovered that his 19-year-old daughter suffered from a heroin drug-abuse problem. Celebrities such as Demi Moore, Nicole Richie, Cameron Douglas, Al Gore III, and Macaulay Culkin have all been caught using drugs like marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Is the celeb-drug abuse just the tip of the iceberg? With intense media focus on substance abuse restricted to illegal narcotics, are we forgetting the bigger drug problem that the US is currently facing?

While at one point in history we were concerned only about the use of illegal drugs; since the mid-1990s, the situation has become stickier with prescription drug abuse on the rise among many celebrities and high-net-worth individuals in the West, particularly in the United States. In fact, Heath Ledger’s autopsy and the toxicological analysis showed that he was addicted to central nervous system depressants and painkillers such as oxycodone, diazepam, and hydrocodone. Hydrocodone and oxycodone are both opioid painkillers and when ingested in large quantities they prove fatal, they cause death too. Even anti-anxiety drugs such as Xanax, which is known to be one of the causes of Whitney Houston’s death, can be purchased over the counter or prescribed by a doctor who looks the other way. Studies and evidences show that prescription drug abuse in the US is not limited to celebrities but is a metastasizing disease. In 2010, studies showed that 2.4 million people in the US were using prescription drugs for non-medical reasons. Youngsters and even celebrities who are addicts do not realize that these drugs can prove to be more dangerous than illicit drugs like heroin and cocaine. National statistics also demonstrate that more people die due to the intake of legal narcotics every year than from that of heroin and cocaine combined.

The drug culture in America has become a deeply-rooted problem that stems from blatantly operating ‘pill mills’ of Florida where seven people die each day from drug overdose. The drug catastrophe in America is proving to be disastrous each day as ordinary teenagers and celebrities are succumbing to the effects of prescription painkillers like oxycodone. With no centralized tracking system in place for monitoring prescriptions, doctors in Florida are prescribing carelessly and storing away their profits. Children believe that if their mothers and fathers are consuming the oxycodone drug to get rid of their severe pain, they can consume it too without being subjected to any health hazard. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long to get addicted to these drugs.

The list of people having been booked for substance abuse in India runs long too. Actors in the Indian film industry and in the social circuit here have been found to possess drugs like cocaine. Apart from the usage of illicit drugs, prescription drug abuse is also rising in India. Pharmaceutical abuse is rampant in states such as Mizoram and Punjab.

The celebrity drug culture in the US and in western society is not an isolated problem. The only way to stop prescription drug abuse is to put in place proper regulation of drugs, prescriptions, and medical practitioners who are selling the drugs to fill their own coffers. Apart from enforcing laws strictly and improving medical practice, the youth need to be educated about the repercussions of taking drugs without any medical reason. While countries such as the USA and Mexico are still worried about drug cartels smuggling cocaine and heroin, they must also be equally vigilant about the impending doom brought on by a nation full of prescription drug abusers who are ignorant of the ramifications. Drug abuse is an international problem and is not restricted to one section of society— the celebrities or the party-goers. Ordinary youngsters, children as young as ten, can become addicted to legal drugs such as cough syrup. Narcotics addiction is a serious problem that should not and must not be classified as a celebrity drug problem.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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