The medical examiner’s report released today revealed that cocaine, ecstasy, and heroin were found in Carrie Fisher’s system when she went into cardiac arrest this past December.
Medical investigators could not determine whether the drugs she took played a role in her death and also stated that sleep apnea and other factors were also involved. Over the course of the past 40 years, Fisher had been public about her struggle with addiction and actively sought to fight the stigma of mental illness. Her family went on to honor her long legacy of mental health advocacy by acknowledging the role that drugs may have played in the actress’ early death. Fisher’s only child, Billie Lourd, responded with a significant comment for those affected by substance use disorders:
“My mom battled drug addiction and mental illness her entire life. She ultimately died of it. I know my Mom, she’d want her death to encourage people to be open about their struggles.”
The decision of Fisher’s family to publicly acknowledge the possible involvement of substance misuse is courageous. All too often, friends and family members are terrified about openly discussing mental health issues and drug use because they fear it will tarnish their loved one’s memory. This shame often unknowingly perpetuates the misunderstanding and stigma surrounding addiction and mental illness.
“She was purposefully open in all of her work about the social stigmas surrounding these diseases. Shame and those social stigmas are the enemies of progress,” Lourd went on to state.
Fisher was a fierce advocate for mental health issues and explored her own experience with addiction in her 1987 bestselling novel, Postcards from the Edge. “I couldn’t stop, or stay stopped. It was never my fantasy to have a drug problem,” Carrie Fischer stated in a YEAR interview. Over million Americans struggle with addiction. Fishers’ openness put a face on the illness and showed that even the most well-known celebrities could own their recovery.
As Princess Leia, Carrie Fisher was a powerful role model for many young women. As an author and public speaker, she took that same power and modeled freedom from anonymity for those in recovery.
This morning’s toxicology report does not diminish the importance of Fisher’s openness about addiction. Rather, it strengthens the importance of raising awareness. While not everyone will remember Fisher as a mental health advocate, those of us in recovery know that she was an active participant in the discussion of social stigma. Thank you, Carrie, for being the type of woman who was open about addiction with your family as well as the public. By using your voice others have been given theirs.
May the Force be with you and your family, Carrie.