Rapper 360’s slow, tentative recovery from addiction began on the floor of the Great Northern Hotel, Byron Bay. It was January 2015. He was part-way through a 16-date tour of regional Australia, travelling the country with a half-suitcase of clothes and a half-suitcase of painkiller medication.
“I should be dead. I should definitely be dead,” he says looking back now, gym buffed and one year sober, in triple j’s Melbourne studio.
Hours before his Byron Bay set 360 had taken 120 pills, passed out, and been found convulsing on the floor. He was not trying to kill himself, he said later in hospital. Actually he had been taking 90 painkillers a day for every day of the tour. He could not stop taking them. He was addicted to codeine, an opiate derived from morphine, present in drugs such as Nurofen Plus. He had been addicted for years.
Things were complicated. He was taking the legal drugs so he could travel through airports without heroin. And then he was using heroin when he ran out of legal drugs.
Friends knew about the heroin; Nurofen Plus was the secret.
In a Hack broadcast exclusive, rapper 360, born Matt Colwell, has described the lows of his secret addictionand his battle to finally shake the drugs and get clean.
His story is one of many. Over the past 10 years drug services have reported a tripling of people presenting with codeine dependency. Australia is one of few nations that sell codeine over the counter – unlike America, most of Europe, India and Japan.
In the grip of an addiction, 360 could walk into any Australian pharmacy and buy packets of codeine without having to show a doctor’s prescription, without presenting identification.
A drug such as Nurofen Plus has both codeine and ibuprofen. Codeine is addictive, but ibuprofen is more dangerous. Too much causes liver problems, and emergency staff at Sydney’s St Vincent hospital encounter codeine addicts with bleeding gastric ulcers.
“You can actually have massive hemorrhage – run into renal failure,” says the hospital’s Alcohol and Drug Service Clinical Director, Nadine Ezard.
“The codeine part is the least dangerous.”
The problem of painkiller addiction may be more widespread; under-reported simply because it can seem banal compared to an illicit substance such as crystal methamphetamine, the drug also known as ice. When 360 posted a music video early this year outing his addiction, the response was overwhelming: more than eight million hits in 10 days, and comments that suggested he had tapped a deep well of pain.
It also sparked calls for stricter regulations on sales of codeine-based products.
“I’d never seen anyone prominent actually speak about about it,” one of the men commenting on 360’s video told Hack.