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Editorial: Miller memorials should address overdose

| Friday, Sept. 14, 2018, 7:33 p.m.
Fans hold candles and sing to songs played on speakers during a vigil held for Mac Miller at Frick Park on Sept. 11, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Fans hold candles and sing to songs played on speakers during a vigil held for Mac Miller at Frick Park on Sept. 11, 2018.

While people are mourning Mac Miller, it is understandable that there are calls to memorialize his music and his life in Pittsburgh.

But it is equally important to realize why some of that might be inappropriate.

Miller was a hip-hop musician, a rapper with a nice roster to his credit and a rising name who had the potential for even more success on the horizon. He was also Malcolm McCormick, a guy from Pittsburgh who had real people who loved him and cared about him, and who lost him on Sept. 7. He was 26 years old when he died.

It is sad that Mac Miller is gone. It is tragic that Malcolm McCormick is.

It is sad that he won’t make more music. It is tragic that he won’t hug his mother again. It is sad that he had so much potential that won’t be fully realized. It is tragic that he had people in his life who are grieving a death that didn’t need to happen.

Miller died of an apparent drug overdose, and that is something that cannot be overlooked while mourning fans look to attach his name or his music to celebrations in his honor — not because we should ignore his accomplishments because of his drug history. We just can’t let there be a blurry, muddy line between grief and glorification.

Fans started an online petition to change the Penguins goal song to Miller’s “Party on Fifth Ave.”

But in a state where overdose deaths are rising and opioid use is rampant, is it smart?

In Allegheny County, the Department of Human Services shows 672 deaths in 2017, up from 215 in 2010, when Miller was just 16. In 2010, a 16-year-old boy like him was one of the least likely victims, with just four guys his age dying of an opioid. In 2017, he would have been smack in the middle of the highest demographic: 27 percent of deaths were in his age group.

The Pens say they aren’t changing the song. They didn’t say why. They passed no judgment.

There is no judgment to pass. Miller’s death — McCormick’s death — is awful. It is all the more awful because he was so open about his drug use.

Let’s be honest. The specifics of Miller’s suspected overdose have not yet been released. Toxicology takes time. But Miller had been fairly free with talk about what he used. Marijuana, yes, but there was more. People magazine cited lyrics and interviews where he alluded to uses of angel dust, cocaine and a codeine cough syrup concoction called lean.

Codeine is a prescription opioid.

“I was too worried about the legacy that I would leave behind — how I would be remembered if I died. That was my whole thing,” Miller told Billboard in 2015, saying he was “not doing as many drugs.”

The legacy he leaves is one of something he said in his own documentary was “not cool” — overdosing.

If fans want to remember him in Pittsburgh, it seems that finding a way to attach his name to something that works to prevent overdoses might be what he wanted.

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