Opinion: Why it doesn’t matter that Carrie Fisher was on drugs when she died

21st Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards - Press Room
Getty Images | Ethan Miller

You’ve probably seen by now that an autopsy report about the death of actress Carrie Fisher was released. In addition to the primary cause of death, which was deemed to be sleep apnea, the coroner also discovered cocaine, heroin, methadone and ecstasy in her system at the time of her death. While it can’t be confirmed that these drugs had anything to do with her death, it also doesn’t matter at all that Carrie took them.

Yes, I said it—I don’t care at all that Carrie Fisher was on a positive cocktail of illegal drugs at the time of her death. Fisher was enormously open about her lifelong struggles with addiction and mental illness, and the fact that drugs were discovered in her system when she died does not tarnish her reputation in my eyes. And a statement to People from Fisher’s daughter, Billie Lourd, makes clear that the actress and mental health advocate wouldn’t have wanted the news covered up.

My mom battled drug addiction and mental illness her entire life. She ultimately died of it.  She was purposefully open in all of her work about the social stigmas surrounding these diseases.

She talked about the shame that torments people and their families confronted by these diseases. I know my Mom, she’d want her death to encourage people to be open about their struggles. Seek help, fight for government funding for mental health programs. Shame and those social stigmas are the enemies of progress to solutions and ultimately a cure. Love you Momby.

I am reminded of a situation a few months ago when Ben Affleck told the world he had just returned from a second bout in rehab for alcohol addiction. In a surprisingly open and honest Facebook post, Affleck told his fans about his ongoing struggle with substance abuse and how going back to rehab (after a previous stay at Malibu’s Promises in 2001) was the best option for both himself and his family.

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His point that addiction is an ongoing issue rings true again here. Fisher was open about her lifelong struggle with addiction, and her attempts to manage her mental health issues (Fisher suffered from bipolar disorder).

“I used to refer to my drug use as putting the monster in the box,” Fisher said in her book “Wishful Drinking.” “I wanted to be less, so I took more… You know how they say that religion is the opiate of the masses? Well, I took masses of opiates religiously.”

In addition to the illegal drugs in her system, Fisher was also taking Prozac, Abilify and Lamictal with a prescription. She was also taking oxycodone, an extremely powerful opioid, without a prescription. This cocktail of opioids, anti-depressants and other illegal drugs paints a sad picture of a woman struggling with addiction. But again, we shouldn’t be so surprised. Just because she was open about her battle with addiction doesn’t mean she had conquered it.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), about 75 percent of those entering treatment for alcohol abuse relapse at some point. Though data is sketchy, the most recent research from NIDA suggests that 2.1 percent of American adults age 26 and older have used heroin—and it’s no secret how difficult an addiction that is to kick.

If Fisher were alive today, there’s no telling what she would do. But I believe, and I’m sure many of her fans feel the same way, that she wouldn’t hide from the ugly picture of drug abuse. She would be upfront and unapologetic—and chances are high she’d make us laugh.

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About the Author
Jessica Suss
Current high-school English teacher, native Chicagoan, and nut butter enthusiast moonlighting as a writer.

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