Monday, October 13, 2003
Some Quick Limbaugh-Related Thoughts
Vice Squad has had little to say about the Rush Limbaugh opioid addiction case, other than keeping track of the developments.
But there is one obvious point that, nevertheless, I have not seen made anywhere else. (Maybe it is only obvious to those who
have spent considerable time studying drug policy?) Rush Limbaugh has admitted an addiction to powerful opioids. Somehow,
this addict has managed to maintain an extremely high level of professional performance during the course of his addiction,
holding down a 3-hour per weekday radio show along with numerous television and other professional commitments.
On two occasions prior to his current treatment (according to his own admission), Mr. Limbaugh engaged in inpatient treatment
to help him shake his habit. This is strong evidence that he viewed his addiction as a problem (and probably not solely for the
legal jeopardy in which it was placing him, though we can't be sure.) Indeed, any opioid addiction is likely to be a very serious
matter, one that involves much suffering and calls for sympathy. Nonetheless, his case must come as something of a surprise
to those who think that the chemical properties of opioids are sufficient to render them life-destroying, and hence to justify their
criminalization. Mr. Limbaugh, like it or not, provides evidence that the effects of drugs are not simple functions of their chemical
properties, but depend on the environment and the user's characteristics and all sorts of other factors. (See Norman Zinberg's
justly renowned Drug, Set , and Setting.) His case sounds very much like that of a functional alcoholic, though few who
support the criminalization of heroin are willing to extend their prohibitionist impulses to alcohol.
I'll give the last word here to another high-functioning opioid addict, Thomas de Quincey, 19th Century author of Confessions
of an English Opium Eater. (De Quincey faced no legal jeopardy, of course, because opium at the time was available in
pharmacies without a prescription. He was quite put-off by the fact that life insurance companies did not take well to opium
I, for my part, after I had become a regular opium-eater, and from
mismanagement had fallen into miserable excesses in the use of opium,
did nevertheless, four several times, contend successfully against the
dominion of this drug; did four several years renounce it; renounced it for
long intervals; and finally resumed it upon the warrant of my enlightened
and deliberate judgment, as being of two evils by very much the least. In
this I acknowledge nothing that calls for excuse. I repeat again and again,
that not the application of opium, with its deep tranquilising powers to the
mitigation of evils, bequeathed by my London hardships, is what
reasonably calls for sorrow, but that extravagance of childish folly which
precipitated me into scenes naturally producing such hardships.