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Dr. Oliver Sacks is one of the more interesting characters in several medical fields. A neurology professor at the New York University School of Medicine, he has accomplishments in Tourette’s Syndrome, Parkinson’s, autism, strokes, phantom limb syndrome, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s. His works are tantalizing and better than any mystery. A recent New Yorker article by Sacks on strokes is absolutely fascinating. Oh, what the brain can do and not do! Example: Novelist Howard Engel had a stroke which destroyed his ability to read. But it did not affect his ability to write, even if he couldn’t read what he had written seconds ago! Bizarre stuff.
Sacks takes chances. In the 1960’s he took the drug arcane in an experiment to see whether it might help Parkinson’s patients. He hallucinated that two friends were visiting him and chatted with them while having breakfast. But then they disappeared and a large spider on the wall said “Hello” to him. Sacks and the spider then had a delightful philosophical discussion until the drug wore off. Later when he described the spider to an entomologist, the expert nodded and said, “Yes, I know the species.”
My title for the column asks the question, “Why do some people take drugs? Why did wealthy, multi-talented Phillip Seymour Hoffman, an actor who could put Tom Hanks back into community theater, need drugs to feel satisfied, fulfilled, and human? Why did he really feel like T.S. Eliot’s J. Alfred Prufrock character when he laments: “I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas?”
Humankind Has Been Using Drugs Since They Were Neanderthals
In his novel of the future “Brave New World” Aldous Huxley has members of the new society use “soma” for relaxation, recreation, and medication. There are written records and evidence of Central Asian societies using cannabis (soma, pot), Ephedra, ginseng, and opium over 4,000 years ago.
In 2012 a federal survey found that 23 million Americans, or 14 percent of the population, had used at least one illegal drug in the previous month. Almost 19 million had used marijuana, 1.6 million had used cocaine, 1.1 million had used hallucinogens, and 335,000 had used heroin. And we have had a “War on Drugs” for over 50 years! The losing statistics are staggering. In 2004 we had 1,879 deaths from heroin; in 2010 we had 3,038. Our “Best Medical Care in the World” in 2000 killed 225,000 patients in that year, 106,000 of that total with prescriptions of legal drugs. Every year since then between 76,000 and 137,000 hospitalized patients die from drugs, and over 2.2 million patients have severe reactions from drugs. Since 2009 over 1.2 million Americans a year have gone to emergency rooms because of drug use. It’s estimated that 9,000 Americans a day begin abusing prescription drugs.
The drug cartels in Mexico, which supply up to 70 percent of our “needs,” have caused 80,000 violent deaths and the “disappearance” of thousands in that country since 2006. Alcohol, another major drug, kills about 80,000 a year and costs the economy about $250 billion. For some reason our war on tobacco has been fairly successful. In the 1970’s about 40 percent of the population smoked. We are now down to 19 percent. Could education take credit for the drop?
Anyone Who Watches “Honey Boo Boo” And “Duck Dynasty” Needs Drugs
We have to remember that one-half of the population scores 100 or less on the IQ scale. Someone must be watching those epics “Honey Boo Boo” and “Duck Dynasty.” As a Marine infantry officer I have been opposed to our last wars except for the Gulf War. Only the Gulf War made any sense. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the War on Drugs have all been disasters because leaders of both political parties were ignorant of history, particularly the political tribal maelstroms of the Middle and Far East. Our “partner” Afghanistan currently produces 95 percent of the world’s opium poppy crop (morphine). We spend billions of dollars on drug interdiction around the world but heroin on the streets of New York is still ten times cheaper than Oxycontin sold at the corner drug store. Mexican drug cartels use human “mules,” airplanes, boats, submarines, tunnels, tennis balls, and even medieval catapults to send illegal drugs across the border.
One drug dealer delivered illegal drugs by tennis ball to third-floor addicts going through treatment at rehab facilities. The user would drop money to the dealer in a tennis ball. The drugs would be placed in a new tennis ball and bounced up to the third floor addict. Mission accomplished.
The World Health Organization recently surveyed 54,000 people for legal and illegal drug use in 17 relatively affluent countries. Guess what? We lead the world in almost all categories. We lead the world in cocaine use, at a ratio four times more than the country in second place: New Zealand. We have also won the title of chief pot user, edging out second place New Zealand at 42.4 percent to 41.9 percent. The Netherlands has the most liberal drug policies in the world, but cocaine use is a shocking low 1.9 percent and pot use is at 19.8 percent. We also lead the world in alcohol and tobacco use, although we are down to 19 percent for tobacco. The WHO report concludes: “The use of drugs seems to be a feature of more affluent countries. The U.S., which has been driving much of the world’s drug research and drug policy agenda, stands out with higher levels of use of alcohol, cocaine, and cannabis despite punitive illegal drug policies.”
Legal Or Not, These Bastards Are Determined To Make Money Over Your Dead Body
We desperately need to drop the War on Drugs and intensify all education programs in K-12. We can reduce the use of both legal and illegal drugs. We reduced nicotine and caffeine through education. Sixty million people have quit smoking since they found it kills them. In fact, it probably wouldn’t make any difference if we made all drugs legal. It certainly hasn’t made any difference to this point.
Our drug wars have been defeated by maniacal and fanatical legal and illegal drug cartels, primarily operating for huge profits in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Columbia, Mexico, and the United States. And it has been defeated by ignorant consumers who have no idea about how drugs can destroy bodies and minds. Look at how Big PHARMA, one of the richest and toughest unions, protects its corporations. In the latest attempt to make huge profits from selling old tired men stuff that will make them young, virile, juicy middle-aged men, the drugmakers seem to forget to tell the men what the drug testosterone is manufactured to do. Because of genetic or pathological causes some men have a condition called hypogonadism. Everybody knows what a gonad is.
But Big PHARMA drug companies are enthusiastically pushing testosterone products if men have “feelings of fatigue, loss of sexual drive, depressed moods, increase in body fat, and decrease in muscle strength.” Hell, I’m nearly 82 years old and I have had all those problems for many years! It’s normally called aging. The fact the drug companies have left out of their mendacious advertising is that testosterone doubles the risk of heart disease for those men without heart problems--and triples the risk of death from heart attacks if you have heart problems. These bastards are determined to make money over your dead body.
Here’s What We Can Do
We can scare the hell out of all K-12 students in health programs in every grade by showing how meth rots teeth, gums, muscles, and minds—and eventually kills. Have lots of show and tell. Show how needles can give you some fantastic diseases. Show people hallucinating on drugs talking to spiders crawling all over them. Show the kids alcoholics going through DT’s. Show pictures of DWIs and innocent victims of car crashes after the body parts have been assembled. The state of Virginia DMV forced us to watch an hour-plus show of horrendous accidents before they issued licenses to Corky and I about 60 years ago. Barf bags were optional. We thought the show was “memorable.”
Is there a drug in the world that has no side effects? Pass a law forcing Big PHARMA to spend as much money explaining side effects as they do drug-pushing, particularly on the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, and all those other “social” outlets young people use. We must force the suburban white to listen while he is driving to the black ghetto to get his daily doses of heroin and other junk.
Why Not Have The FDA Sell Heroin?
I think we need the government to assume control of both the legal and illegal drug markets, including price controls on both. We might have to control the production of potent drugs. Big PHARMA has made so many billions pushing OxyContin, Vicodin, and Percocet to pain sufferers and addicts at $80 per 80-milligram pill it is now actually losing market share to heroin which sells for as little as $10 a packet. Remember when Florida “pill mills” staffed by prescription-writing doctors were selling OxyContin out the back door and by mail around the world? Are you telling me that Big PHARMA didn’t know it was producing enough OxyContin to send half of the country into Nirvana or caskets?
There is the drug naloxone which can almost immediately reverse opiate overdose. It is in most medical offices and is carried by some police and medical first responders. It can be made for as little as $2 a dose in Africa. In this country the Hospira Company of Big PHARMA has the U.S. monopoly on that drug. When people started to die from very potent mixes of opiates, Hospira raised the price of naloxone 1,100 percent. I repeat, these bastards will sell you drugs until you die.
We Can’t Get Rid Of Our Cannabinoid Receptors
At last count humans have been on earth for only about four million years, but cannabinoid receptors have been around for 550 million years. Evidently we have inherited our thirst for drugs from the tunicate sea squirt. Believe it or not, we share 80 percent of our genes with sea squirts. That’s why cannabis (marijuana) use goes back thousands of years. We have the receptors!
The latest Gallup Poll says 58 percent of Americans favor legalization of pot. We have surrendered to our cannabinoids. Not only does pot make us feel good, it has helped cancer patients control nausea caused by chemos and epileptics decrease seizures. In some cases it is the only drug that works. Pot has also decreased the use of alcohol by young people. For some strange reason, pot users leave a much bigger interval between cars on the road, thus reducing the number of rear-end collisions. Scientists haven’t figured out why yet.
Perhaps states should also take over the sale of marijuana and all illegal opiates. Addicts like Hoffman are dying from heroin overdoses that can contain other more powerful drugs such as fentanyl. Many times the user has no idea of the potency of opiates. States could make sure the product they sell is as advertised. In 2010 22,652 addicts died from prescription drug overdoses with 16,652 of that number from opiates, many because they had no idea of the potency in the plastic baggie. We can fight our cannabinoid receptors by knowing exactly how powerful the drugs are.
Although our smoking numbers have dropped 21 percent since education on tobacco started, the corporations don’t give up on enslaving the population. Electronic cigarettes are gaining in popularity, but the symptoms of excessive use are beginning to appear in emergency rooms. Not very appetizing symptoms can be disabling: nausea, stomach pain, drooling salivation, headaches, irregular heartbeat. vomiting, and dizziness. These bastards never give up. But if we educate all ages, regulate Big PHARMA as accessories to murder and other crimes, we can stop the slaughter. We can’t destroy the cannabinoid gene–yet.