A Mania Called Horse

What is the new heroin? What isn't?

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•Obesity. Last year, the BBC exaggerated a report in the New Scientist to conclude that "cheeseburgers and French fries can be as addictive as heroin."

A few years ago, the media buzzed with reports about Internet and technology addiction. The fear apparently was that people were spending too much time online, perhaps satisfying urges within the confines of their own home that they were once too embarrassed to satisfy in public.

Heroin comparisons ran rampant. Master's and Johnson's Dr. Mark Schwartz told The New York Times in 2000 that "sex on the Net is like heroin. It grabs [users] and takes over their lives. And it's very difficult to treat because the people affected don't want to give it up."

On the technology website Totse.com, Richard Forno wrote: "Technology, like gambling and heroin, is addictive." A Chicago Sun Times columnist took aim at video games. "Role-playing games such as Everquest run worldwide around the clock," he wrote, "so it's always available. And, like heroin, the first taste (month) is free." One Canadian news service article likened Ebay to heroin and cocaine but, to be fair, admitted that researchers hadn't formally established any similarities just yet.

My favorite heroin example comes from the Port St. Lucie News, which actually called the prescription painkiller Oxycontin, "the new crack." Oxycontin is actually from the same family of opioids as heroin. Which means the paper missed its one opportunity to make a heroin analogy to a trendy drug that actually is a little like heroin. Of course by then hundreds of media outlets had already made the Oxycontin-heroin connection, too.

Karl Marx famously called religion the opiate of the masses. Today, he might point out that hysteria has become the heroin of talking heads.

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