The Drug Made Me Do It


"I am not making any excuses," Rush Limbaugh said in his public statement about his narcotic habit. "I take full responsibility for my problem."

Not quite. Aside from the fact that Limbaugh no doubt hopes to escape the jail sentence he has prescribed for other illegal drug users, the talk radio host implicitly blames his pill popping on the drugs themselves. He says he took narcotic painkillers after back surgery "some years ago," and "this medication turned out to be highly addictive." Later he says he is seeking treatment to "once and for all break the hold this highly addictive medication has on me."

By attributing his addiction to the irresistible lure of these drugs, Limbaugh not only minimizes his own responsibility; he does a disservice to pain patients by reinforcing the opiophobia that has led to scandalous undertreatment of pain in this country. Contrary to his implication, studies during the last few decades have found that people who take opioids for pain rarely become addicted to their psychoactive effects and start using them for nonmedical reasons.

Presumably that is what Limbaugh did. Although he says he continues to suffer from back pain, he sees his drug use as a problem requiring treatment and alludes to other celebrities in similar situations who have been praised (wrongly, in his view) for "conquering great demons." By overgeneralizing from his own experience with opioids, he feeds the beliefs that result in untold suffering because doctors are reluctant to prescribe these drugs.

NEXT: Productive Pill Popper

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Thanks James. 🙂

    PS The phrase “politically incorrect substance,” I believe can be credited to Jacob, I believe I read that in one of his columns and in his book. On a side note, a very conservative friend of mine (is only Libertarian regarding taxation) balked at the phrase, stating much like Thoreau that it belittles the harms caused by abuse.

    Here’s the other thread: Hit & Run Entry, “Productive Pill Popper”

  2. Limbaugh’s entire statement was an exercise in nuanced PR. It was carefully crafted and groomed to put Limbaugh in the best light. The slippery statements pointed out by Sullum were just a part of it.

    Take this, for instance: “… Over the years athletes and celebrities have emerged from treatment centers to great fanfare and praise for conquering great demons. They are said to be great role models and examples for others. Well, I am no role model.”

    Sounds good, huh? A declaration of personal responsibility, an embrace of humility. But read it again. It’s actually a sly way to introduce the notion that, “Hey, I’m not only person you admire to have gotten hooked on drugs. My failure is not unique or even unusual. Not only is my situation commonplace, but it’s even accompanied by good things like fanfare and praise, and it turns people into role models.”

    There was no other need to bring “athletes and celebrities” into the picture. There was no other need to mention the fanfare and praise. Limbaugh could have made points about responsibility and humility without bringing up any of that. In fact, if he were truly concerned with responsibility and humility, he would have quite actively avoided introducing other people into the mix.

    The rhetorical gimmickry is quite apparent — not just here, but throughout the entire statement.

  3. Can anyone explain why a guy named “Rush” isn’t entitled to a little addiciton now and then?

    Today, I will begin my usage of Oxycontin. Some people will say its for my pain, but really, its for the Rush!

  4. 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.




  5. Imagine if Rush’s situation actually happened to Bill Clinton.

  6. Steve has it exactly right, in his use of the phrase “politically incorrect substances” as an alternative to the drug warriors’ own “illegal (or illicit) drugs.” “Politically Incorrect Substances” focuses attention on the essential political nature of the operation — despite its health-n-safety pretensions — helping people to cut through the propaganda and get at the truth.

    Not to mention that the “Drug War” now becomes the “P.I.S. War,” which seems ever so more descriptive of its true nature, a key reason that Americans should ridicule and reject it outright.

  7. He’s lying. Using painkillers as prescribed by a physician almost certainly did not cause him to become addicted.

  8. whatever dude. i heard the whole speech when it was rebroadcasted, and he’s saying he’s addicted to painkillers, that he’s not a victim, that he needs to check into rehab a 3rd time to beat the addiction, and that he wants people to pray for him to help him kick the habit. what the hell are you mean people finding fault with in that? and for the wanker who said he’s carefully selected his words, well no freakin’ shit. admitting an addiction is hard. he prepared his remarks ahead of time no doubt so that he would get them right, and he could use the prepared script (no pun intended) as a crutch while he was making a difficult confession to MILLIONS OF PEOPLE. also, let’s not forget he’s facing crimnal charges, so of course he’s going to carefully prepare the statement. a lot of you legalize-everything libertarians have a test in this lush limbaugh story: will you gleefully report how he is facing criminal charges, yet at the same time want the drug laws thrown out?

  9. abu hamza, I don’t shed any tears when a bombmaker blows himself up in his basement. Serves him right + poetic justice = good times.

    Same here.

  10. Moral of the story; Clean your own house.

  11. for fifteen years rush limbaugh has been making fun and getting he tastes his own medicine.kinda bitter.too bad.before he totally sold out to the blowhard rightwing crowd he was sorta in ivory towers and getting paid millions to run your mouth with your
    simplistic and cliched banter to a bunch of fawning sycophants would probably numb most people.or make them want to get’s like bill bennett.self righteousness has no place in a ruthless world that eventually pins everyone’s back to the wall.compassion is hard.ridicule is easy.let’s have compassion for rush.when our tiny streams meet the vast ocean we’re all going get a feel of the enormity of our insignificance.let’s hope rush recovers and in the process gets transformed.and learns how hard life really is for those who aren’t so lucky….

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.