In an apparent attempt to use parody to make an absurd travesty of both heroin use and corporate drug advertising, Saturday Night Live pushed the limits of taste and responsible content.
On the SNL episode which aired April 16, 2016, a “comedic commercial” first showed a chart that illustrated the rapid pace of America's heroin epidemic.
In the skit, which was a fake ad for a product to help people remain productive while using heroin, the announcer said, "Heroin use in America is steadily on the rise."
Then came the punch line.
"But productivity among heroin users has remained stagnant."
"That's why 'Heroin A.M.' combines heroin with five milligrams of caffeine and a small pile of cocaine," said Kate McKinnon, playing a mom who just sent her kids to school.
"And now available in gummy bears! Which you can melt down and inject," chimes in Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the episode's host.
The skit employed boxes for the product that looked similar to those containing Vicks DayQuil.
Of course, SNL has created commercial parodies about everything from Chia pets to Spanx for babies, and sometimes the show ignites angry debates over the content and presentation of its comedy as it makes light of serious news. But, with "Heroin A.M.," SNL recklessly crossed the line of decency.
The main premise of the sketch was that the happy people taking "Heroin A.M." aren't your "typical" drug users, but instead like two moms and a mini van-driving boys' soccer coach. While it is true that comedy, in this case, mimics reality, making light of an epidemic is irresponsible.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more people died from drug overdoses in 2014 than in any year on record. The majority of those drug overdose deaths (more than six out of ten) involved an opioid. And since 1999, the rate of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin) nearly quadrupled. From 2000 to 2014 nearly half a million people died from drug overdoses. 78 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.
Jessica Contrera of the Washington Post says one Twitter user said ...
"It's ironic how SNL does a skit on what is killing so many -- heroin. A substance that took so many [of] SNL's comedians.”
SNL legends Chris Farley and John Belushi both died after combining heroin and cocaine -- the same formula for "Heroin A.M."
(Jessica Contrera. “Viewers not amused by SNL's joke about the heroin epidemic.” Washington Post April 17, 2016.)
I wonder if SNL would consider parody to find laughs in terrorist activity that kills 78 Americans each day? The opioid drug epidemic is domestic terrorism that should be immediately addressed with all seriousness and commitment. As the health community takes steps to stop the carnage caused by prescription pain killers and heroin, the nation is faced with adopting a new, sober philosophy about taking dangerous drugs and combating pain. Failure to do so will continue to increase the horrible toll.
Saturday Night Live is not the sole conveyer of “Pill-popping” humor. I have seen other media productions that poke fun at the subject. Yet, this particular production had no redeeming social or political point. Maybe hyperbole – gross exaggeration – that does not trivialize the use of opioids might have redeeming value, but this skit proved mindless.
A silver lining? The SNL commercial did facilitate a dialogue that needs to take place. Still, what a shame most of viewing public will simply react to the production without taking action to help fight drug abuse. No one wants high rates of overdose deaths and rampant addiction, yet stigmas prevent lawmakers and citizens from demanding massive resources to change the current state of drug abuse.
Oh, it is true that all feel the pain of the fates of Chris Farley and John Belushi, but few find empathy for the thousands of dead and dying whom the sober consider “should know better.” SNL should know better than to humanize poison that has taken the lifeblood of its own.