Productive Pill Popper


Judging from his own account, Rush Limbaugh is not exactly a model drug user. But it's undeniable that he remained productive, maintaining a busy schedule and preserving his edge in a highly competitive business, even while consuming large quantities of hydrocodone and oxycodone. Indeed, it looks like almost no one knew about his habit before his housekeeper ratted on him. His case illustrates that the strength of one's attachment to a substance and the practical consequences of that attachment are distinct issues. Just as there are "functional alcoholics," who continue to meet their professional responsibilities and even excel at their work, there are functional narcotic addicts whose habits may take a personal toll but do not interfere with their careers. The difference is that opioid users like Limbaugh are breaking the law simply by obtaining their drugs, so their habits may become public scandals even if they never affect their public performance.

NEXT: See you at the pah-ty!

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  1. Steve, pointing to Rush Limbaugh as an example of someone unharmed by drug abuse does “trivialize all the harm done by drugs”, especially if some of the rumors turn out to be true.

    BTW, I’ve decided that I was wrong when I questioned whether Rush would have been better off if the war on drugs didn’t exist. I think it’s very likely he would be better off.

  2. I didn’t point to Rush as someone “unharmed,” by drug use. Neither did Jacob. Jacob’s point, if may be so bold to speak for him via his literature on the subject, is that Rush seemed to have been able to function at a much higher level, for much longer while using copious amounts of an intoxicant touted by drug warriors as extremely dibilitating. Rush is a living refutation of the hyperbolic rhetoric that passes uncritically as truth from the prohibitionists to the average citizen. That said, sure, it sounds as if Rush was overdoing it quite a bit, but the threat of jail, and his need to resort to the criminal underground to procure his drug(s) of choice all point to the failure and harm caused by prohibition. But that fact will be lost on those who suffer from “pharmaphobia.” Perhaps there is a little pill for that ailment? 🙂

  3. Not very many posts today? Is the Columbus Day holiday this widely celebrated? Guess so. Though I don’t really see the point of this holiday, I suppose if I got the day off, I wouldn’t object to Ghengis Khan day or just a general “Genocidal Maniac,” day as long as I could sleep in an extra day.

    Selfishly Yours,


  4. One in 100,000 can really discuss the war on drugs.
    First, if you?re against the war, the majority of hoi polloi think you?re a user.
    Then we get bogged down on whether drugs are good for you or not. Same hand-wringing applies to seatbelt laws and helmet laws.
    The bottom line issue is this: Do we own our bodies or not?
    I?m convinced the Founding Fathers found the
    answer so SELF EVIDENT that it didn?t occur to them to make it Number 2 of the Bill of Rights.

    President, Ghengis Khan fan club.

  5. Steve-

    OK, maybe pointing out all the people who use occasionally doesn’t exactly trivialize the harm done by drugs.

    I still think that tactically it’s a bad idea to try and persuade America that drugs should be legal because a lot of people aren’t hurt by them. Yes, facts are facts and truth is truth. And arguing against lies is always a worthy goal. But what should the goal be? To end the insane War on Drugs and the harms it causes? Or to persuade Americans to think a certain way?

    Persuading people to end the insane drug war will be difficult, but it’s a message that even people who are very anti-drug can agree on. On the other hand, going further to argue that we should not only legalize drugs but like them as well is a much tougher hill to climb. And in the mean time it will stigmatize people who argue for legalization.

    I know, I know, recreational users who aren’t harmed might resent that I think their cause should be “hushed up.” But they can’t really demand more than to be left alone. Nobody can demand more than the right to be left alone. Being left alone is a right. Being celebrated/liked/endorsed/etc. is guaranteed to nobody.

  6. “we should not only legalize drugs but like them as well”

    Who ever made this point?

  7. I don’t know if anybody has ever said the precise words “we should like drugs.” But phrases like “saying yes” (the title of a book on drugs) suggest an attitude that goes far beyond simple opposition to prohibition.

    I admit, I haven’t read Mr. Sullum’s book. But I have read his columns on Reason. And his attitude toward drug use is not going to win many converts from among those who currently support prohibition. Suggesting that narcotics are like alcohol (OK if used in moderation) may be factually correct, but it will not persuade many people to oppose prohibition. To the contrary, it will persuade a lot of people that legalization proponents are nuts.

    Are they wrong to think that way? Probably. Is it dumb to say things that arouse their worst fears and suspicions? Absolutely. You’ll never persuade some of my friends and relatives (who have seen first hand what drugs can do to people) that cocaine and alcohol are in the same category. But it was pretty easy to persuade some of them that prohibition causes more problems than it will ever solve.

  8. thoreau,

    I think there’s two reasons to end the War on Drugs.

    1. Humans have the right to do whatever they like as long as they don’t harm others.

    2. Prohibition does more harm than good.

    Pointing out that drug use is less harmful than often assumed affects the efficacy of both arguments.

    How it affects the latter argument should be obvious. There, it’s a matter of weighing pros and cons. And it’s clearly relevant to point out that becoming addicted does not carry the consequences of, say, getting caught in the fire of gang warfare.

    How it affects the former argument is more subtle. Unfortunately, there is a strain of thought out there that because you may hurt others if you fuck up your own life, the government is actually protecting those others when it tries to keep you from attaining drugs. The morality of such an argument is dubious at best, but a lot of people are going to consider it “practical” to do whatever it takes to keep from getting their hands on things that are supposedly very very dangerous. Therefore, it matters to anyone who doesn’t take the hard line you and I may take on individual rights and responsibilities to learn that drugs are generally not such a scourge that they obliterate the lives of all who come in contact with them. People are always going to make bad decisions that affect others, and drugs are ultimately a minor player in that. Not an insignificant point to those who don’t really WANT to penalize small time users and entrepeneurs but are AFRAID of what would happen were we to remove those coercive guardrails!

  9. Interesting debate. Does anyone know [approximately] when one-time “big fat idiot” Rush Limbaugh slimmed down to his current size? I would not be surprised if his significant weight loss (a health benefit) corresponded to (or even resulted from) his opiate use. If intellectually honest men are to discuss the very real & undeniable harms resulting from drugs, we should not ignore their potential benefits. Painkiller addiction is a serious liability – as is pain.

  10. My research yields the following timeline:

    1992 – Rush Limbaugh weighs 310 pounds (per Orange County Register report)

    1998 – Limbaugh begins receiving prescription oxycontin, hydrocodone under the table, via from housekeeper Wilma Cline (per her allegations)

    Jan 1999 – Al Franken publishes book “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot.”

    Mid 1999 – Limbaugh enters detox for the first time (per allegations)

    Nov 1999 – Limbaugh appears on CNBC’s Tim Russert show describing his recent weight loss: “I got to 325 at my highest. And–and I’ve–I–I lost the weight in two stages, and I’m now at 215. So that’s–yeah, 110 pounds. My secret? Pasta. Lots of pasta.”

    “pasta” = pills?

  11. Personally, I start to have hallucinations after a couple of days of “medically prescribed” codeine. I don’t know if that drug has any chemical relation to oxycontin but if oxycontin gets you half as whacked as codeine does me, it can’t be a good thing to be walking around all the time with that crap in your veins.

  12. codeine, oxycodone, etc are opiates/opiods.. i.e. they’re all in the same family as opium, generally derivatives (i.e. differently processed forms) of opium or synthetic substitutes.. so yeah, oxycodone is similar to codeine…

    oxy, when used in pill form, is specially formulated to be a slow release formula… you take pills infrequently but get long lasting effects, and you have an even level of drug in your system, rather than peaks and valleys that you get with simpler forms of opiates…

    oxy is the bane of the DEA because it comes in big doses and if you grind it up and snort it, you defeat the slow release formulation and its a really potent high, fairly cheaply obtained

    opiates especially have different effects on different people… a main thing is how much pain you’re in… taking 2 t3s every 4 hours was too much for me, but one every 2 hours was fine and managed the pain well when i had shingles… with an especially uncomfortable infection, 2 percocets [sp?] every 4 hours was just enough to attenuate the pain slightly (perc is much more powerful than t3)

    opiates make me non functional but are useful when needed medically… they’re unpleasant and can cause really bad downswings… but other people get off on them and can function beautifully… everyone’s bodychemistry is different douglas, so don’t extrapolate…

  13. There are rumors that it was his drug use that led to his hearing loss (it’s a known risk of hydrocodone abuse, at least that’s what I’ve heard). If true, it wouldn’t be fair to say that he was a functional addict and his drug use didn’t severely impact his career. If true, it almost cost him his carreer. Also, over the last few years, Rush has taken several “vacations”; at least two of those were to go to rehab. The drugs didn’t destroy his mental faculties, but it seems clear there were some negative consequences.

    I’m all for decriminlisation, but why soft-pedal the real dangers of drug abuse?

  14. I don’t regard taking vacations for any purpose as being a negative, and it would be hard to say that his vacations, regardless of how he spent them, have negatively impacted on Rush’s career.

    The hearing loss is a different issue, though. If a result of his drug use, then it certainly had an impact on his life.

    I think Jacob’s basic point is well-taken though. Right now, Rush Limbaugh is one of the poster boys for legalization, in part because he is a living rebuttal to the notion that drug addicts are inherently dsyfunctional.

  15. Dear Mr. Sullum,

    I have almost finished reading your new book, Saying Yes, and I must say it is eye-opening. It was especially so for the cashier at Barnes and Noble when she saw the joint on the cover and read the title. She looked me over in a condescending way that seemed to say, ?Uh huh, well you don?t look like one of those people.? Even though I am not ?one of those people,? I liked the idea that I presented an appearance contrary to what many have been taught to expect.

    I already believe the drug war is worse than just a failure, in that it actually causes much of the harm associated with illicit drugs rather than their explicit use. Limbaugh is a good example of the double-standard at issue. If he’d been slamming a 12-pack every night (which would probably be more deleterious to his capacity to function than popping pain killers), people may have found it objectionable and would hope he would drink more moderately but they certainly wouldn’t be calling for him to serve jail time, as many of his enemies are.

    Probably much to his regret now, Rush called imprisonment just treatment for Americans that had been caught ingesting, or simply possessing politically incorrect substances. Rush’s predicament offers an incredible opportunity to discuss the ineffectiveness of prohibition laws, let’s hope something positive comes out of this. Perhaps now, the great pontificator will not ridicule Libertarian notions out of hand. One can only hope. However, I fear he will exit rehab like so many before him, like ex-smokers, becoming militant and intractable, and babbling sophistry instead of reason.




  16. Unfortunately the lies on which the war on drugs are based will not be noticed because of all the hoopla created by Al Franken, et al.

    Remember also the media is very easily distracted… may be because of the drugs they’re on.

  17. RC Dean, Vacations are positive if you want to take them and you enjoy the time off. Neither of these is true if the vacations are for rehab. It probably didn’t negatively impact his career, but forced vacations like that aren’t good for Rush if he would rather have been working.

    And Rush a posterchild for legalization? Most people couldn’t take extended vacations so easily, and taking time off for rehab would very likely negatively impact on most people’s careers. Maybe…. maybe Rush would have faired better if he didn’t need to break the law to get the drugs, but that’s about the best you can say for legalization in this case.

  18. Rush is a poster child for legalization because he’s insisting that his problem is a medical one in need of a medical solution, rather than a problem in need of a legal solution.

    I’ve seen enough people harmed by drugs (first hand, not on the news) that I don’t really buy into the “drugs aren’t so bad” school of thought. I freely acknowledge that there are plenty of people who use occasionally and don’t suffer eny significant or lasting consequences. Fine. Let them have their fun. But don’t use them to trivialize all the harm done by drugs.

    My experience with drug users and the harm I’ve seen done is actually why I support legalization: I’ve never seen anybody get over his addiction because of the cops. It’s always been when a person made the conscious decision to end the habit. Sometimes it takes medical help to follow through on that decision, and often it takes a support group to remain firm in that committment, but it always began with a choice.

    On the supply side of the fence, I have the displeasure of knowing somebody who launders money for drug dealers. (That isn’t why I despise him. He was a scummy person long before he started laundering money, the black market merely attracted him, it didn’t create him.) I’ve seen how lucrative prohibition is for him and his friends.

    And a long time ago I met a friend of his who claimed to be an FBI agent. I have no idea if the man really is an FBI agent, but apparently he paid his way through law school selling drugs. His first job after law school was in the Miami District Attorney’s office. Gee, I wonder why prohibition has failed. Surely it couldn’t have anything to do with lucrative black market profits being used to bribe law enforcement.

    In a nutshell, everything I’ve seen about the drug trade makes me realize how bad it is, and how much worse prohibition has made it. I can’t subscribe to Jacob Sullum’s ideas.

  19. Thoreau,

    First let me say, I really enjoy reading your posts, finding them enlightening most of the time. Therefore, I find it odd for you to state something that seemingly contradicts itself. On the one hand, you admit there are those who just use occasionally, and you consider that just fine, and then on the other, there are those who have had their lives adversely affected. No different than alcohol, most use booze in modertation, we only notice really, when it has become a problem for those who’s use isn’t moderate. Pointing out this fact, doesn’t “trivialize all the harm done by drugs.” On the contrary, what this does is point out the falsity of prohibitionist claims. You may see it as trivializing the harms caused by abuse, but that isn’t the reason for pointing out that most drinkers are not alcoholics and most people who take drugs avoid the pitfalls of excessive use.



  20. Not extrapolating — but since I don’t have any known allergies or any other health problems (aside from being overweight), I doubt that my reaction to these drugs is unusual. Just to clarify, these are mild hallucinations, momentary, not extended freekouts. I actually enjoy the goofed feeling they give me but I don’t really think man was meant to be goofed all the time, do you?

  21. Hey,

    I agree that everyone’s body chemistry is different. On the occasions when I’ve had prescription opiates (typically hydrocodone or Vicodin), sure, they make the pain go away for a while. They also make me queasy and dizzy and the only thing I can do is lie down and nap for a while. Based on my own experience, I can’t imagine myself taking them for recreational use (and I’m no prude when it comes to politically incorrect substances).

  22. Libertarians and liberals who support decriminalizing drugs usually, as is this thread, fail to interact with the actual argument most Americans believe or make for drug laws. It goes like this
    Premise 1. Drug use is sinful
    Premise 2. Drug use is dangerous to users and others.

    Conclusion. THERE OUGHT TO BE A LAW.

    I have seen libertarians argue that the conclusion does not follow fmom premise 2. But only the theocratic libertarians, such as some of the Christian Reconstructioninsts, have attempted to argue that the conclusion does not follow from premise 1. Instead, most libertarians and liberals mock the idea of sinfulness, and end up driving Midddle America into the arms of the prohibitionists.

    If Libertarians started to interact with the distinction between sins and crimes, and paid more attention to the social (but not civil) restraints against sin, They would make more progress.

  23. I think there are lots of people who have gotten over their drug habbis because of the cops. The fact is that there are some people who are so addicted that jail is the only way to keep them from killing themselves. Daryl Strawberry and David Crosby come to mind.

  24. Darryl Strawberry has been in rehab how many times now?

    Yeah, if the cops catch you, and you have the resources/insurance coverage necessary for rehab, then the cops busting you might help you get on the road to recovery.

    The sad truth is that many people who are addicts and poor/without insurance coverage end up in prison without any attempt at rehab, and probably still use drugs in prison, and thus are no better than they were before they got arrested. Society is safe from them robbing and mugging people to support their habits while they do time, but they return to the street, and in most cases, to their previous lifestyle.

    I did a comparison last week between crime rates here in America and in Holland, where Mj is legal, and the average age of heroin addicts is climbing, which means that they don’t have a lot of young kids getting hooked, like we do here.

    The crime rates were less in every catagory I looked at, except one. Sometimes the differences were within a margin of error, but the increase in crime that prohibitionists say will happen when drugs are legalized hasn’t happened there yet.

    Oh, the one catagory where they have more crime than us: Bicycle theft. That’s because they have more bicycles per capita than we do. It’s not because our thieves are better at stealing cars then Dutch thieves are because they’re stoners.

    Sorry, I don’t buy that law enforcement helps us with America’s problem with drugs.

  25. Even if it were true that there are lots of addicts are “saved” thanks to prohibition, you have to balance that against the harm done to those who don’t “need” to be saved and yet are treated in exactly the same way as the addicts in need of saving.

    It doesn’t make sense, to me at least, to punish those who have their stuff together (relatively speaking) in order to help those who don’t. It doesn’t make sense to send Rush to jail in order to cure Sally the Crackwhore.

  26. “It doesn’t make sense to send Rush to jail in order to cure Sally the Crackwhore.”

    Why is that simple concept so hard to get across to everyone?




  27. “It doesn’t make sense to send Rush to jail in order to cure Sally the Crackwhore.”

    Why is that simple concept so hard to get across to everyone?




  28. EMAIL:
    DATE: 01/20/2004 10:46:12
    Everyone is born with genius, but most people only keep it a few minutes.

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