Tuesday, December 11

Lil Xan and the economics of being sad and anxious in America

22 year-old 'Sad Rap' music artiste Lil Xan (Xan as in Xanax), who went from highschool dropout to $8/hr street sweeper to drug dealer (?/hr) to being in debt to Columbia Records for $1 million, so he'd damn well better stay sad.     

Onstage, Lil Xan wore a pink hoodie bearing Lil Peep’s image. [Lil Peep having died two weeks earlier from a Xanax-fentanyl combo.] Just as he was about to finish his set, he launched into a tirade about the pitfalls of Xanax abuse. Artists of the sad-rap movement possess a world-weariness that makes them seem older than they are, and Lil Xan has spoken many times, in a harrowed tone, about battling a Xanax addiction. “Fuck Xanax 2018!” he told the crowd. But he added a footnote, lest he start to sound like too much of a killjoy: “I’m still Lil Xan, though, at the end of the day.” In tribute, the d.j. played Lil Peep’s “Beamerboy,” perhaps the most morbid song about luxury cars ever recorded.
The above is from the New Yorker's January 2018 report, Lil Xan and the Year in Sad Rap: "In 2017, a cohort of young musicians embraced a depressive sound and became stars."

On paper they became rich stars, snagging signing deals with major recording companies that offered them contracts of a million dollars or more. One catch: 
Jake Millan, manager of rising Atlanta rapper Yung Bans, is concerned that inexperienced stars don't understand that a label's $1 million offer usually means an advance that has to be paid back.
Another catch:
Laurie Soriano, an attorney for acts including Travis Scott, Frank Ocean and M.I.A., cautions that "a lot of times people will have one big single, but that's not enough to sustain a recording career and to justify the big-money deals we're talking about." ...
Both quotes are from Billboard's March 2018 report, A Hip-Hop Signing Frenzy Sends New Record Deal Prices Soaring, which describes the bidding wars as record label companies race to cash in on the 'streaming revenue' bonanza in music:
"Everyone's competing because urban music is dominating," says a label source. "You can get rich quick, so if you sign the right urban artist, that has the potential to have massive numbers on Apple and Spotify. Some labels don't want to miss any piece of gold in the river."
Loosening the labels' checkbooks is streaming revenue, which jumped from $1.8 billion in 2014 to $5.7 billion in 2017 in the United States, according to the RIAA, as well as Spotify's public listing, which could lead to a windfall of billions more, should labels sell their stakes.
Do the bidding wars represent a bubble, as in a stock market bubble? There is that concern in the music recording business, as you'll learn if you read the entire Billboard report. What the report doesn't discuss is that any such bubble would be buoyed by America's druggie subculture, which is a big part of urban music. The subculture is stuffed with Americans who like Lil Xan are struggling against addiction to Xanax and a host of other mood-altering prescription drugs.

From that viewpoint the big bucks garnered by streaming music is a drop in the bucket next to what pharmaceutical companies and pill pushers, legal and illicit, have been raking in for decades. And with Xanax, the user is not just the ordinary captive consumer. From an explainer article at Solutions Recovery, What Is Xanax and Why Is It Addictive?
Xanax Withdrawal
As previously mentioned, withdrawal from Xanax can be more than uncomfortable, but truly dangerous. Brain cells long inhibited by the constant presence of Xanax can rebound with abnormal excitatory signaling, which can cause those cells to erupt with activity that jumps from cell to cell to cell — a spreading wave of nerve cell excitation that may result in seizures. 
Further, repeated attempts to quit Xanax increases the risk of seizures with each additional withdrawal process, which is known as “kindling”. In kindling, each withdrawal episode causes the cells to become even more excitable in the absence of Xanax, and as the cells become more reactive, the risk of seizures increases.
Which is to say Lil Xan is taking his life in his hands if he truly attempts to withdraw from Xanax without 24/7 medical supervision. Just what is the drug?
The brand name Xanax represents the drug alprazolam, which is a short-acting benzodiazepine. It is most often prescribed to alleviate moderate to severe anxiety and panic attacks. It is also used as an adjunct treatment for the kind of anxiety that is associated with moderate depression, and the kind connected to sleeping disorders.
Ironically one of the uses for Xanax is to help alcohol and other substance abusers endure the symptoms of withdrawal. But this is making a deal with the devil given that Xanax is 'safe' to take only for a short time -- between two and four weeks -- although "safe" in this context is relative. Even without becoming addicted users of benzodiazepine can experience mental blackouts of the kind associated with severe drunkenness. And it can be addictive within a few days when the user takes more than the prescribed daily amount of pills to achieve his idea of being comfortable.

The stuff is one of a large class of drugs known as mood-altering, mood-stabilizing or "lifestyle" drugs that should never have been developed, and why it was cleared for sale is beyond me. Clearly it was not adequately tested before being marketed to primary-care physicians and psychiatrists as treatments for patients who can't keep up with their jobs and college studies if they're experiencing 'discomfort.'

But this is how large numbers of American workers and students live. The medical/pharmaceutical industries in the United States have evolved to cater to discomforts that are largely a result of a person's wrecked circadian cycle of wakefulness and sleep. The wrecking started in grade school and 'preschool' programs; it was made worse by keeping children sedentary for extended periods daily in classrooms and after-school studies, not to mention TV watching, video gaming, and internet surfing, and social media sites. The human body was designed for sustained manual labor particularly in its youth.

As to how much money the pharmaceuticals have made from alprazolam drugs -- I don't think that information is readily available from a quick internet search but from Wikipedia's outdated discussion:
Alprazolam was approved for medical use in 1981. In 2013, more than 48 million prescriptions were filled in the United States making it the most prescribed psychiatric medication.
The Guardian's January 2016 report, Why 'big pharma' stopped searching for the next Prozac isn't forthcoming with specific numbers, either, opting to describe the big picture for the development of mood-altering drugs. The picture is that it isn't any longer cost-effective to plug big money into R&D for psychiatric drugs. Result: "Pharma giants have cut research on psychiatric medicine by 70% in 10 years."

As to where next for the giants now that America is littered with people trying to kick their addiction to brain drugs -- 
First of all, while R&D clearly stalled, it did not stop entirely. According to the industry body PhRMA, in 2014 there were more than 100 medicines to treat a range of mental health conditions and addiction in development [pdf] by companies in the US, although 75% were “in the earliest phases”.
 However, the next big moneymaker will be mined from gene-sequencing:
Neuroscientific research, for example in gene-sequencing technology, could spill over into psychiatry and draw investment back along with it notes [clinical psychology professor Richard Friedman]:  
“Brain research is actually proceeding at a pace that is going to tell us a lot about the basic neuroscience that underpins major mental disorders so we know what’s going on at a circuit level. The pace of research is sometimes astounding. There’s a lot of work and then suddenly, boom, there’s a major finding and innovation.”
And there are brain implants under development to treat depression, as RT also informs us that cybersecurity experts warn there will be hacking of neural implants. 

But the biggest picture is that no one has yet dared tabulate the economics of being sad and anxious in America because so many people work at jobs related to making Americans comfortable through the drug route.   

Maybe Lil Xan can write a song about that.


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