On the second anniversary of Prince’s tragic death, asha bandele wants us to celebrate his life.

“Prince meant freedom for me as a young woman coming of age in the late 1980s and 1990s,” bandele, senior director at the Drug Policy Alliance, said in an interview. “Here was this man who could be in the world any way he wanted to be in the world. I was an awkward black girl who had been sent to schools with white children. I’d been called all kinds of things. But Prince — because he was black excellence and because he was free, he gave me the ability to claim my own freedom and be who I was.”

She added, “I’m here talking about addiction and talking about drug use because I loved Prince.”

On April 21, 2016, Prince died from a counterfeit painkiller containing fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that can be fifty times stronger than heroin. And according to bandele, his death might have been avoided if America didn’t stigmatize or criminalize drug use.

“We could’ve [disrupted Prince’s death] if there was Naloxone available, if it had been available to him right there in the moment,” bandele said of the life-saving medication that can reverse opioid overdose. “People are going to use drugs. Our job as a society should be to save lives. So if somebody who was an active drug user was using drugs in a safe consumption space, whether it was a room set up just for that, or it was a church, or a community center, and if they started to overdose, you could administer Naloxone right there on the spot and save their life. But we’re more concerned about morality or the idea that somebody not be sober than we are with saving lives.”

She added, “Each year in America, somewhere around 64,000 people die needlessly of drug overdoses. About 42,000 of those deaths are driven by opioid use. The War on Drugs has been an abject failure and we’ve known it.”

But bandele wants you to know that drug addiction isn’t some great evil — it’s a symptom of how society fails millions of Americans.

“From marijuana to heroin, 75% to 90% of people who use them never become addicted,” she said. “So we need to begin to look at ‘What are those things that are present in the lives of people who do become addicted?’ And often what you find are things like lack of access to health care, loss of hope, loss of jobs and loss of family structures.”

She added, “And so we have to not think about addiction as this isolated sort of craziness that some person who’s a freak lives in. We have to think about our social responsibility and what we’re not providing people. And the truth is, in our country, we don’t provide proper mental health care, we don’t provide proper housing, we don’t provide proper education, we don’t provide jobs — we don’t provide the things that make a life quality. And so people have to figure out how to get through their day despite all these things that are missing.”

In the spirit of Prince’s life, bandele is calling on you to do your part to end drug overdose deaths and change the narrative on people who use drugs.

“I loved Prince, even though I didn’t know him,” bandele said. “He allowed me to love myself and be true to myself. And being true to his spirit, I want to ask you to please go to DrugPolicy.org. Find out what you can do right now to end overdose. I want Prince back every day. I want new music from him every day. I want my daughter to have grown up with him. And I don’t want to lose another person.”

She added, “Wouldn’t you do anything to have saved Prince’s life? I would have.”

Watch asha bandele’s powerful op-ed for Mic above, and visit DrugPolicy.org to find out how you can take immediate action to end overdose deaths.

Anthony Smith
Senior writer