It’s nothing new for a retail operation to stir controversy. It helps sales. The old adage is “there is no bad publicity”. As a promotion for their new flagship store in New York City, which includes a hair salon, “Hairroin” Urban Outfitters is giving away pens shaped like a hypodermic needle. Nice, right? Especially considering their mainstay customer, suburban white kids who fancy themselves future hipsters living in Brooklyn and writing song lyrics on the back of their trust fund check envelope. Vulnerable youth desperate to separate from their parents and find this just the item to make them feel that way. As the tsunami of heroin addiction, overdose and death continues to be a black plague in the suburbs with no sign of letting up, this is a really cheap shot. Certainly Urban Outfitters is guilty of nothing but insensitivity and poor taste. Heroin addiction doesn’t correlate to cheap crap sold in a chain store at the mall, it is a complicated brain malady with a million variables but this certainly doesn’t help.
Emmy winning actress and recovery advocate, Kristen Johnston, says this on the subject, “I believe in freedom of speech and certainly love a sense of humor but this troubles me, we would never see a tshirt that reads ‘Aids ain’t so bad’…why is addiction still viewed as such a joke, it’s life and death”. Daily there are about 114 overdose deaths in America, it kills more than car accidents. Many of those dying are young adults with a serious mental health issue that requires treatment if there is hope for remission and a normal course of development. It isn’t fashion. Urban outfitters is treating this like the latest cut of jeans or style of sunglasses, fodder for the mall culture. Daily at Rebound Brooklyn we see young men and women addicted to opiates, many of them are the lucky ones who have survived an overdose and have another chance at life. If Urban Outfitters wants to draw attention to themselves in the drug culture, why not provide free Narcan kits and training (an emergency measure in an overdose crisis) at their new shiny store? How about a tshirt sale to support a pro bono treatment bed in an adolescent facility? There are certainly ways to slice out their piece of the addiction/recovery pie without this egregious “pen”. I can’t even imagine the person who thought is up: “wait! Wait! I’ve got it! A pen that looks like a heroin needle for the new Hairroin salon!” Maybe their marketing department is shooting dope? I can’t imagine who this makes sense to as a good idea. If the overdose calamity has a chance to improve, it will take a concerted effort from many areas of the community and that includes you Urban outfitters. #urban outfitters
- Joe Schrank
- Scott Bienenfeld, M.D.