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Saturday, October 11, 2003  

Pleasure, pain and Rush Limbaugh

Let me start with an admission. I have never purchased a drug stronger than Tylenol with codeine in my life, and that was with a prescription. My illicit drug use is limited to the usual college and law school toking. (Marijuana is very popular at many law schools.) So, I approach the topic of drug addiction without personal experience.

However, like other writers, and cats, I just have to know about things. So, I've been probing the topic for years. One of my most anthologized short stories is about a drug addict. That leads people to think I know the turf. To the extent I do, it is because of having focused on it as a reporter and continued that research subsequently. One of the aspects I have been wondering about for a long time is the relationship between drug use and hedonism. Is the pleasure derived from hardcore drug highs so extreme that those of us who haven't had the experience are clueless about ecstasy? Are the relatively short lives of addicts an understandable exchange for the pleasure derived from drug use? What about pain? How much of it are people willing to endure in return for the high?

A new angle to the saga of a conservative talk show host's admission to addiction (shall we call it 'Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Junkie'?) has led me to inquire into the issue of drug use and hedonism again.

Limbaugh's confession came a week after a former housekeeper went public with accusations that she supplied Limbaugh with thousands of black-market pain pills over a four-year period.

. . .They also triggered renewed speculation about a possible connection between his drug abuse and his sudden, almost total, loss of hearing three years ago.

Lorcet, one of the drugs that his housekeeper claimed to have supplied Limbaugh, has been linked to abrupt deafness.

. . .Limbaugh's broadcast confession caps a dismal two weeks for the broadcaster, who lost his job as an ESPN commentator after he claimed Philadelphia Eagles Donovan McNabb has been overrated by sports journalists because he's black.

That was followed quickly by a story in the National Enquirer detailing the accusations of his former housekeeper, Wilma Cline.

Cline -- whose husband, David, has a two-decade criminal record including several drug-trafficking charges -- said she provided Limbaugh with black-market Lorcet, OxyContin and hydrocone between 1998 and 2002.

All three drugs are synthetic opiates, chemical cousins of morphine and heroin, and highly addictive.

Cline said Limbaugh gave her cigar boxes full of money to pay for the drugs, sometimes as many as 4,000 pills in a seven-week period.

The relationship between taking Lorcet and losing one's hearing is established, but no one but Limbaugh's doctors knows for sure about him. (If he told them about his drug abuse.)

Since Limbaugh continued using the illicit drugs after his hearing loss, it is logical to conclude he considered deafness an acceptable trade-off for the pleasure of using the drugs. This is not an isolated phenomenon, of course. Any user of drugs proven to be harmful, from cigarettes to heroin, sacrifices part of his or her health. A lung here, a liver there, some deafness, an amputation if the steroids backfire. Misery between bouts of transport.

It seems to me there a kind of cost/benefit analysis occuring among addicts. They may decide the pleasure is worth the pain. If they do, that could explain why rehabilitation usually fails. The public health system, on the other hand, assumes the pain of addiction, and the upheaval it causes, is not worth the pleasure. Perhaps this dichotomy is the key to deciding what to do about the millions of drug addicts in America. It suggests the current one-size-fits-all assumption, that every addict really wants to quit, is not accurate. Until the relationship between addiction and hedonism is more thoroughly investigated, we will not know how the monies allocated to drug education and treatment can be spent most usefully.

12:30 PM