Lil Peep's Overdose Death Continues the Conversation about America’s Opioid Epidemic

On November 15, 2017, the world lost another star to the opioid epidemic. Lil Peep, an emerging rapper in the post-emo, hip-hop arena, was just 21-years-old when he accidentally overdosed on a lethal combination of prescription and illicit drugs.

The Pima County Medical Examiner confirmed that Lil Peep’s death was caused by the "combined toxic effects of fentanyl and alprazolam” in early December. Alprazolam is the generic form of the anti-anxiety medication, Xanax. It is well known that combining fentanyl and Xanax can lead to respiratory depression, coma, and death.

Family, friends, and fans worldwide were shocked by the news. While it’s no secret that Lil Peep had his fair share of recreational drug use, no one expected the beloved star to dabble with the truly toxic stuff – to combine drugs that are known to have deadly effects, to exceed his limits and take too much.

Just hours before his death, Lil Peep posted a video on Instagram in which he professed he had taken six Xanax. The video has since been deleted. Mariah Bons, a fan who was hanging out with Lil Peep before his show, boasted about getting the rapper “high af” on his tour bus just hours before he died. According to the toxicology report obtained by TMZ, in addition to Xanax and fentanyl, Lil Peep also tested positive for marijuana, cocaine, the painkiller Tramadol, and other powerful opiates such as Hydrocodone, Hydromorphone (Dilaudid), Oxycodone and Oxymorphone.

Despite all the drug use leading up to Lil Peep’s death, the Medical Examiner determined that the overdose was fully accidental. And even before the toxicology report was released, the rapper’s older brother Karl Åhr (who goes by Oskar) went public in saying it was unintentional. He told People magazine, “We [the family] have heard there was some sort of substance he did not expect to be involved in the substance he was taking. He thought he could take what he did, but he had been given something and he didn’t realize what it was.” The pills that Peep took, Oskar says, may have been laced with an unknown substance [fentanyl] that cut his life short.

On its own, alprazolam (commonly known as Xanax) has a very low risk of overdose. However, when mixed with opiates and other drugs, alprazolam is much, much more dangerous. Now, imagine its effects with fentanyl – a deadly drug that has contributed to a 540 percent increase in overdose deaths in the last few years. Fentanyl led to Prince’s death, and now to Lil Peep’s. Why? Because more dealers are reportedly mixing fentanyl with cocaine, heroin, and other drugs without informing their customers. This means that all drug users – even famed musicians – run the risk of unknowingly taking the drug.

Despite confirmation that Lil Peep’s overdose death was accidental, many fans are wondering whether there was some intention (suicidal thoughts) behind it. Lil Peep has always been open about his mental health struggles. In his music as well as his social media accounts, fans could see bouts of depression, hopeless thoughts, coping with pain through drugs. On the day of his death, Lil Peep captioned his photo, “When I die You'll love me.”

In an interview with Pitchfork earlier this year, Lil Peep revealed, “I suffer from depression and some days I wake up and I’m like, F***, I wish I didn’t wake up. That was part of why I moved to California, trying to get away from the place that was doing that to me, and the people I was around. I realized it was just myself—it’s a chemical imbalance in my brain. Some days I’ll be very down and out, but you won’t be able to tell, really, because I don’t express that side of myself on social media. That’s the side of myself that I express through music.”

We know that depression and drug use often go hand-in-hand. Self-medicating with drugs is common, and one of the driving factors behind addiction. But Oskar explains that Peep’s overdose was completely unintentional, even though the star’s drug use was not. Lil Peep did not want to die – he was just rising and gaining popularity. Oskar explains that being sad was a part of Lil Peep’s “emo” image, and that, at the time of his death, the rapper was in a very happy place. He was not struggling with suicidal thoughts, but rather, struggling with pressures from the media to maintain a sad, emo, drug-using persona.

Oskar blames the hip hop industry for putting pressure on artists to portray a particular image. He says of his brother, born Gustav Åhr, “My brother didn’t take five Xanax pills every day, but he would take them and then post on Instagram about it… I wish [the industry] would have paid for him to be a little safer, but the world needed him to have superlative problems that he dealt with in superlative ways. Gus dealt with these problems much better than Lil Peep did, but people didn’t know Gus, and there’s a reason Gus doesn’t sell.”

Lil Peep was constantly glorifying his drug use, through his music and his social media accounts. That is what everyone expected of him – he was leading a new, “post-emo revival” style of music. His lyrics were sad. Drugs made him happy. That is the story we saw and that many, unfortunately, expected. But this dynamic is now stirring conversation among musicians and fans alike. Lil Peep’s death has brought up the issues of glorifying drug abuse in the media. It has also brought up the fact that many of us accept depression and drug abuse, without getting our loved ones the help they truly need.

Scru Face Jean, a Nebraska-based rapper tweeted, “Lil Peep died of a drug overdose. Even if you don't know who he is this brings up a HUGE issue that we NEED to discuss. Hip hop has drug abuse problem! Too often do we promote things that will literally kill us and say nothing when something like this happens. WAKE up ppl."

Lil Phag, a rapper/comedian that also started his career on YouTube, tweeted in response to Lil Peep’s death, “Tell ur friends u love them, talk to people about ur problems, let ur friends know they're not alone. know u arent alone. idk. im sad. depression isnt trendy its an awful rotting feeling. lil peep deserved a happy ending.”

Without a doubt, Lil Peep needed help – whether that was someone to truly talk to, someone to help him out of the spinning cycle of addiction, or someone to help him treat his depression the right way. Days before his death, Lil Peep Instagram’ed a seeming cry for help:

“I just wana be everybody’s everything I want too much from people but then I don’t want anything from them at the same time u feel me I don’t let people help me but I need help but not when I have my pills but that’s temporary one day maybe I won’t die young and I’ll be happy? What is happy I always have happiness for like 10 seconds and then it’s gone. I’m getting so tired of this.”

Lil Peep will be missed by his mother, his brother, his friends, and hundreds of thousands of fans throughout the world – many of whom may long be left with the question of “what if?”

If someone you love has a drug abuse problem, or is battling a mental health disorder, please do not hesitate to get help. There are resources available to you. It is never too early to seek out addiction or dual diagnosis treatment. But there could come a time when it’s too late. Know that Turnbridge is just one call away. We are a young adult drug treatment center helping young men and women conquer addiction, depression, and other co-occurring disorders. Call 877-581-1793 to learn more.