Opinion: SNL’s heroin skit is crude, honest and sadly, funny

Matt Poe

Before you decide to stop reading this column because I called a skit about heroin funny, let me explain.  

Last week’s episode of Saturday Night Live contained a skit called “Heroin AM,” which depicted a faux, over-the-counter dose of heroin that could be bought in capsule form.

The skit played out like so many drug commercials we see: “Side effects include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and anxiety. Who cares; I feel great and you will too!” says pretty much every actor in those drug commercials. Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who hosted the SNL episode and starred in the skit,  said something somewhat similar while in character.

I walk a very thin line with this column. It will probably upset some people. But, I think what SNL did was pretty bold, sad, cringe worthy, honest and funny. And it made me look at heroin and opiates in a different way.

Just about every place and every person in America has been affected by heroin in one way or another. For residents of Ohio, the chances of this are even greater: Ohio had over an 18 percent increase in heroin overdoses from 2013 to 2014, according to the CDC. Only seven states during this time period had higher percentage increases. Whether you’ve lived in Ohio for just a few years or your whole life, you’ve seen heroin’s trickle down effects firsthand.

But let’s get back to the SNL skit because everyone knows how bad heroin is. SNL received a large amount of backlash over the skit. For the people who are outraged and pissed off, I understand why. However, I think what SNL was trying to do was not to make fun of heroin or people who struggle with addiction, but rather show two significant aspects of heroin and drugs that may not think be thought of at first glance.  

The first is how “big pharmacy” and drug companies can so easily push opiates and painkillers onto people, so much so that many people do not realize how addicted they have become. Oxycodone, Percocet and Vicodin, just to name a few, all have similar effects on the brain, as does heroin.

After all, they’re opiates. For some—when the kick of the painkillers subsides—they need something stronger, like heroin. One in 15 people who take non-medical prescription pain relievers will try heroin within the next 10 years, according to drugabuse.gov. Think about that: That is staggering. I think that’s one message SNL is sending: how easy it is to get hooked and stay hooked on opiates.  

The second message I think SNL intended to send was to help put a face to the people addicted to heroin. Most of us have some typical caricature of what we think a heroin addict looks like: strung out, frail, skeleton-like and unkempt. But for many people who suffer from heroin addiction, they can be highly functional people who aren’t inept at hiding their tendencies. They’re siblings, parents, friends, colleagues and neighbors. Regular, everyday people who you may never know have a problem until it’s too late. Often, we don’t think about it that way.

Lastly, before I get called insensitive or something worse that I can’t put in print, I’d advise you to go watch the skit. Some will find it to be in bad taste, but I guarantee you will laugh at certain parts. That’s because people like Dreyfus, Beck Bennett, Taran Killam and Bobby Moynihan are talented comedians. They can make just about anything funny. They and the writers at SNL are putting heroin under a different microscope and have forced us to talk about it, no matter how uncomfortable it may be.  

Matt Poe is a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].