'I was high as hell': Flea, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist, attacks prescription of OxyContin

The musician wrote about his drug addiction in Time magazine, and argued ‘it’s hard to beat temptation’ when doctors prescribe opioids

Flea, the bassist in Red Hot Chili Peppers, has laid bare his struggles with addiction, and attacked the prescription of the controversial opioid painkiller OxyContin.

Flea, born Michael Balzary, wrote the revelations in an opinion piece for Time magazine called The Temptation of Drugs is a Bitch. In it he says he started smoking weed aged 11, before he “proceeded to snort, shoot, pop, smoke, drop and dragon chase my way through my teens and 20s.” He added that he had some “close calls” with death as a result of his drug-taking, which he “cut out forever” in 1993, aged 30.

Much later, following surgery for a broken arm after a snowboarding accident, Balzary was prescribed OxyContin. “I was high as hell when I took those things,” he writes. “It not only quelled my physical pain, but all my emotions as well. I only took one a day, but I was not present for my kids, my creative spirit went into decline and I became depressed. I stopped taking them after a month, but I could have easily gotten another refill.

“Many who are suffering today were introduced to drugs through their healthcare providers. When I was a kid, my doctor would give me a butterscotch candy after a checkup. Now, they’re handing out scripts. It’s hard to beat temptation when the person supplying you has a fancy job and credentials and it’s usually bad advice not to trust them.

“There is obviously a time when painkillers should be prescribed, but medical professions should be more discerning. It’s also equally obvious that part of any opioid prescription should include follow-up, monitoring and a clear solution and path to rehabilitation if anyone becomes addicted. Big pharma could pay for this with a percentage of their huge profits.”

Almost 100 people are dying every day across America from opioid overdoses – more than car crashes and shootings combined. The majority of these fatalities reveal widespread addiction to powerful prescription painkillers. The crisis unfolded in the mid-90s when the US pharmaceutical industry began marketing legal narcotics, particularly OxyContin, to treat everyday pain. This slow-release opioid was vigorously promoted to doctors and, amid lax regulation and slick sales tactics, people were assured it was safe. But the drug was akin to luxury morphine, doled out like super aspirin, and highly addictive. What resulted was a commercial triumph and a public health tragedy. Belated efforts to rein in distribution fueled a resurgence of heroin and the emergence of a deadly, black market version of the synthetic opioid fentanyl. The crisis is so deep because it affects all races, regions and incomes

The opiate painkiller OxyContin, manufactured by Purdue Pharma, has become one of the most popular drugs in the US, fuelling an opioid crisis along with fentanyl, heroin, methadone and others – opioid overdoses have become the leading cause of death among under-50s in the US. Overdoses of the drugs have recently claimed high-profile lives in the music industry, including Prince, Tom Petty and rapper Lil Peep.

Purdue made an estimated $1.8bn from sales of OxyContin last year. Some 14 US states are suing the company for its role in the opioid crisis, described as a “public health emergency” by Donald Trump – the company is accused of aggressive and misleading marketing. Purdue has responded by halving its salesforce and promising it “will no longer be promoting opioids to prescribers”.

  • This article was amended on Tuesday 27 February to clarify that Flea did not develop an addiction to OxyContin.


Ben Beaumont-Thomas

The GuardianTramp

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