Drugs and Rock-and-Roll

"The bad news," drug czar Barry McCaffrey said recently, "is [that] heroin is back." In the music industry in particular, this dangerous drug's allure is stronger than ever - with some tragic consequences.

Since last spring, a handful of musicians - including Jimmy Chamberlin of Smashing Pumpkins, Scott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots, and David Gahan of Depeche Mode - have been arrested for heroin possession. Others - Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon, Bradley Nowell of Sublime, and Jonathan Melvoin of Smashing Pumpkins - have died of drug overdoses.

The urgency of the problem goes beyond the music industry. In the mid-1980s, higher prices, lower purity, and a fear of disease transmission through needles kept heroin out of the mainstream. Now it's cheaper and purer, and consumption has doubled.

The bad news, as General McCaffrey would say, is that the heroin issue has divided the music industry. Most record-company executives say they support rehabilitation and drug education behind the scenes, adding that privacy is most important in dealing with an artist's drug habit. A more pernicious view is that drugs and the music scene go hand in hand - that drugs enhance creativity.

But the good news is that others are taking a more aggressive, forthright position. Smashing Pumpkins is a good example. The band took it upon itself to fire drummer Chamberlin, a reported heroin addict.

Mike Greene, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, called together 400 music-industry people last December and again in June. The purpose was to raise awareness about drug addiction and prevent more deaths and arrests through a policy that would include canceling recording projects or concert tours when a band member has a drug problem. Committee sessions resulting from the symposiums are to be held this month.

Industry executives have questioned Mr. Greene's motives and chided him for not knowing much about the subject. They've publicly worried that he would propose mandatory drug-testing by record companies, as well as "morals clauses" in contracts that would result in artists who use drugs getting dropped by record companies. Greene says he has no intention of proposing such rules.

We hope Greene will continue his efforts to bring the problem out of the shadows. In June, four record companies - Capitol, MCA, Virgin, and Revolution - became the first to pledge their cooperation. Those who haven't come forth should join this much-needed effort or speak out against heroin and other drugs on their own.

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