Drug Policy

House Rehab Update

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If the latest episode of House is sitting on your TiVo, waiting to be watched, you should stop reading this now. I watched it last night and was pleasantly surprised that the writers managed to avoid turning the running plot about Gregory House's Vicodin habit into a hackneyed story of addiction and redemption. For several episodes now, the diagnostic genius with the biting wit played by Hugh Laurie has been hounded by a cop (David Morse) who is convinced he's a dangerous addict. In the last episode before the show's mid-winter hiatus, it looked like House, who all along has insisted that he takes Vicodin to relieve chronic leg pain, finally would be forced to admit he has a Drug Problem. Instead, as I was hoping, he merely pretends to have reached this realization as a way of avoiding jail.

First House apologizes to the cop for treating him dismissively and insultingly as a patient, which was the offense that triggered the investigation into his drug use. He seems utterly sincere when he says he's an irascible son of a bitch partly because he's been living for years with severe chronic pain that is only somewhat mitigated by the Vicodin. The cop, convinced House is an Addict in Denial, does not buy it. Then House announces he is going into rehab at the hospital where he works. After some dramatic vomiting, group therapy, and craft projects, his colleagues remark on how much better (i.e., less obnoxious) he seems. He apologizes to his best friend, an oncologist whose practice was shut down by the drug investigation because he had prescribed painkillers for House, for treating him shabbily. The criminal case against House ultimately falls apart because his boss lies on the stand to cover for him, but he still serves a night in jail for contempt of court after walking out of a hearing to tend to a patient. When his friend the oncologist visits him in jail, it's revealed that an employee in the rehab center has been slipping Vicodin to House all along.

This resolution is both dramatically more interesting and, for critics of the war on drugs, didactically more useful than the usual narrative of hitting rock bottom and climbing back up with the help of a Higher Power. (During group therapy House remarks that he's having trouble with the third step, turning his will and his life over to God, because he's rather attached to the idea of free will.) Although there's some lingering ambiguity, it looks like House really is using the Vicodin to control his leg pain. (The uncharacteristic OxyContin-and-alcohol binge of the previous episode, which looked like evidence to the contrary, could be interpreted as his response to the prospect of simultaneously losing his license, his career, his freedom, and his pain relief.)  In any case, it's clear that the painkillers do not impair his professional performance; even the colleagues who view him as an addict recognize that he performs better with Vicodin than without. So if House is an addict, he's a functional addict whose drug use is not harming anyone. Either way, the plot is a pretty bold departure from prohibitionist propaganda; it would not win Fox any credits from the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

I'm not suggesting that no one ever gets addicted to painkillers, or that such habits never cause problems for the users or others. But as Reason has documented over the years (here, here, and here, for example), the fear of that possibility has so skewed government policy and medical practice in this country that people suffering from chronic pain often have great difficulty getting adequate treatment. If the House plot had ended by vindicating the suspicious, meddling cop, it would have reinforced the idea that doctors should err on the side of undertreatment, presumptively viewing every patient in pain as an addict. So I'm glad the writers went a different way, especially since it's more consistent with House's character. Although his apparently sincere apologies suggest he did indeed Learn Something from his ordeal, which was caused largely by his monumental lack of sensitivity, the idea of House in recovery (for real) is too terrible to contemplate.

NEXT: Hitchens on Jefferson on the Koran

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  1. Heh. My girlfriend has been railing against this arc all season, and was happy with this episode. She wasn’t coming to it from an ideological point of view, but rather just felt that House was acting out of character, and that the whole thing was overdramatic. In her words, “I don’t want House to have layers! I want him to be a snarky smartass who knows more than other people. I want my old house back.”

    The turning point was when she found out that House had turned the rehab guy.

    I just liked watching Morse’s cop try to out-arrogant-asshole House.

  2. Great episode. If the House writers would tone down the fakey medical crap it would be one of the best shows on television.
    The episode really highlighted to me how much of the conventional vision of addiction is completely worthless. 12 step programs only exist because people with money think they work. They may work for some people, but for the majority they do as much harm as good and take possible funding away from programs that are actually based on science rather than anecdotal evidence.

  3. House is the best show on TV, but the show needed this blip – the show is becoming too one dimensional regarding Hugh Laurie’s character. I was glad to see Morse in action again as well. I havent seen him too much lately.

  4. Yeah, I figured the whole thing would end with him getting clean and repenting too. Good for House.

  5. Why doesn’t House just have Blackadder or Baldrick bring him some Vicodin?

  6. I liked that the judge started bitching at the cop, “I don’t know what this is about, but I think it’s something personal. We all know that this man isn’t flooding the streets with illegal drugs, so this prosecution is ridiculous,” or something to that effect. She basically pointed out how stupid all the prosecute-everyone-as-a-dealer bullshit is.

  7. Why doesn’t House just have Blackadder or Baldrick bring him some Vicodin?

    Oh, sod off.

  8. So a low-brow TV drama will bring political enlightenment to the masses. Putting hope in a medium of propaganda you don’t control (the advertisers do)is the ultimate in loser politics. Libertarianism is doomed.

  9. “thanks”, Edward. Now what is your stance on those difficult-to-get-rid-of holiday leftovers?

    (or is someone grumpy because his VCR ate up his Merchant Ivory Film collection?)

  10. VM

    Sorry, I keep forgetting that this is supposed to be a echo chamber for like-minded dimwits.

  11. Edward
    I think you were reading way to much into Jacob’s post.

  12. Exactly!

    and “like minded” might be a bit of a stretch. We like to think of ourselves as the Mos Eisley of forums.

    All you need to add to the “Libertarianism is doomed” and “this site is an echo chamber” is “for a magazine called Reason”, and we’d really have to be drinking! (see: “Reason Drinking Game” rules)

  13. The only two good moments in this entire drug prosecution story line were when House left the guy with an anal thermometer and when it turned out he was taking Vicodin in rehab. Thank god this awful, boring plot has come to a close.

  14. Edward,

    “So a low-brow TV drama will bring political enlightenment to the masses.”

    Yeah, something like that. Or maybe it’s refreshing to see a product of pop culture not toe the government line. Dunno.

  15. Uncle Sam:

    Maybe Reason should offer a prize to anyone who can find a cogent point in Jacob’s post.

  16. VM,

    You forgot “I’m cancelling my subscription!”

  17. “So a low-brow TV drama will bring political enlightenment to the masses.”

    One of the things that constantly amazed and amused me in my Literary Criticism course was how consistently those we now regard as ‘great writers’ were slagged by their contemporary critics for being lowbrow.

    Edward, meet Richard Greene. [see “Greene’s Groatsworth” ca. 1601]

  18. Edward,

    “Maybe Reason should offer a prize to anyone who can find a cogent point in Jacob’s post.”

    Can’t you read?

  19. Nice recap and observations Jacob.

    I was also surprised and pleased with the direction the writers went.

    I think it’s also a bold departure to portray the cop as a seriously vindictive cop who is hell bent on using every tool the police state has to offer to extract revenge and divine retribution. It’s not about the law, nor is it about drugs (maybe a little about drugs), Tritter’s motives are purely personal. Not that House didn’t start it, but Tritter explicitly planned throughout the season to finish it. That’s an important and fascinating character study.

  20. You forgot “I’m cancelling my subscription!”

    And “This is why libertarianism will never get anywhere.” (Edward’s reference to “loser politics” might be close enough. Take half a drink.)

  21. TWC,

    Good call. I thought the same, and I was surprised that the show would touch on that. It’s not a popular take.

  22. Jesse Walker | January 10, 2007, 1:19pm | #
    You forgot “I’m cancelling my subscription!”

    And “This is why libertarianism will never get anywhere.” (Edward’s reference to “loser politics” might be close enough. Take half a drink.)
    ==============================================

    In honor of House, we need drinking game rules that substitute Vicodin for alcohol, don’t you think?

  23. Wow, you guys make Maoists look open-minded. Okay. Wow, this episode of House is a milestone. Thank you, Jacob, for bringing it to our attention. How is that? Is there much more to say?

  24. House does a show on the government prosucuting the use of painkillers. CSI Miami did a show about eminent domain abuse. Is there just a chance that there maybe some writers in Hollywood who are reading Reason or catching Cato Forums on the web?

  25. Edward, do you get off on having your sex partners tie you up and beat the shit out of you? I hope so, because if you have this masochistic urge to keep reading blog posts you consider beneath you I hope you at least get a half-assed orgasm out of it.

  26. Edward, do you get off on having your sex partners tie you up and beat the shit out of you?

    I don’t know about Edward, but I think I now know why I pay attention to politics in the first place.

  27. CSI Miami did a show about eminent domain abuse.

    And every show is a study in viewer abuse:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_sarYH0z948

  28. C’mon, Jennifer, my sexual proclivities are not the topic here. What impact do you think this episode of House will have on drug policy? Isn’t it just amazing how popular culture can make these leaps? Libertarians must be writing more and more TV scripts. It’s all quite exciting, don’t you think? What do you think? Do you think?

  29. “You forgot “I’m cancelling my subscription!”

    And “This is why libertarianism will never get anywhere.” (Edward’s reference to “loser politics” might be close enough. Take half a drink.)”

    whoops! that i did. /kicks pebble. (CUPCAKES!)

    Eddie, may I call you Eddie? I’ve never seen “House” and have no real interest in it.

    It’s kinda funny how you don’t get something and go all apeshit and get all “closed minded echo chamber” on us. ssup with that?

    How about this for a point (several ones, actually):

    1) Jacob found this interesting because a mainstream tv show had a plotline that parallels his actual interest. (If “the Ultimate Fighter” had a segment on ARIMA modeling, I’d probably be really interested, too.)
    — while you might think this is at the level of “A Very Special Blossom”, that’s fine. Nobody says you have to read it.)
    — others, apparently, like the show, and were interested in how this mainstream show would deal with the plot. This might be at the level of the show 69… d’oh, what a giveaway… 24 where they looked at torture
    — since those oh so manipulative advertising types control so much, it’d be interesting to see how they react: how mainstream viewers deal with this issue.

    2) Maybe it’s a conspiracy just to rile you up.

    3) We could discuss my leather-bound copy of “Heather Has Two Mommies” (the one with the sweaty pillow fight scene on page 69), instead, if that’s of your liking.

  30. “…House is a milestone. Thank you, Jacob, for bringing it to our attention”

    The only thing cooler is than an allegedly banal post is Edward’s post talking about how banal it is. Beat it, kid.

  31. VM

    You use too many words per thought.

  32. VM,

    OMG, I just realized. Edward really can’t read. It explains everything, why he doesn’t understand the post, why his posts are so bizarre, why you had to spell it out for him…

    Edward, I am SO sorry.

  33. Troll blazes in with posts heavy on insults and light on arguments, then declares people closed-minded when they react negatively: take ten drinks.

  34. Edward:

    calling it a “though” might be a stretch…

  35. Edward | January 10, 2007, 1:43pm | #
    VM

    You use too many words per thought.

    Edward

    Unclench.

  36. (sorry for the double post)

    Kohlrabi:

    I think you’re on to something there! But Edward does have a point. Brevity is the soul of brevity.

    Jesse:

    you da man!

  37. kohlrabi

    You could benefit from an insult workshop.

  38. You can get insult lessons (“abuse”) down the hall from where you can get an argument.

    it’s all hier

  39. Jesse,

    Tat cannot be a rule, otherwise I’d have liver failure before I got to the friday fun link.

    Ed,

    No. I have other things to expend energy on. You go ahead with your workshops, though. Thanks anyway.

  40. Jesse

    These posts are supposed to reinforce cult doctrines, not provoke serious discussion right? How many drinks do I take?

  41. Fine:

    What kind of serious discussion would you like here?

    Would you like to talk about mass media and its reflection of current events?

    Would you like to talk about mainstreaming controversial thoughts?

    Would you like to talk about the human side of addiction?

    Would you like to talk about the criminal side of addiction?

    Would you like to talk about the movie “Idiocracy” and how that really slams the pop tv mentality?

    This could also be a gateway (get it? drug reference!) to discussing FDA policy, war on drug policies – pros and cons.

    Go for it!
    (phew. that’s a lot of words, there!)

  42. Edward, go back to work.

  43. Marcvs

    I don’t have to work. I’m independently wealthy.

  44. A libertarian echo chamber? Kind of missing the whole point, aren’t we? Our inability to agree on even the basic tenets of libertarianism is one of the reasons we continue to lose. That, and our general apathy about government.

  45. More evidence for the libertarianization of TV: Fox’s The War at Home has essentially laughed off the case for marijuana prohibition in an episode that acknowledges the herb’s multigenerational appeal.

  46. These posts are supposed to reinforce cult doctrines, not provoke serious discussion right?

    So Edword, go ahead and start a serious discussion.

  47. VM

    My point is that an episode of House that seems to reflect a libertarian position on drugs is trivial and not worth discussing.

  48. Troll blazes in with posts heavy on insults and light on arguments, then declares people closed-minded when they react negatively: take ten drinks.

    Damnit, I’m just now getting over last night’s hangover!

  49. Pro Libertate

    “That, and our general apathy about government.”

    I’d say we get rather exercised about the idiocy of governments. But we are rather apathetic about wanting to govern.

  50. “I don’t have to work. I’m independently wealthy.”

    Then stop running for the Senate! (I knew it was you, Senator Kennedy.)

  51. Reader declares a topic “not worth discussing,” then spends an afternoon posting comments about it: four shots, two cans of beer, and one AA meeting.

  52. P Brooks

    Where did you get that scintilating wit?

  53. Edward:

    It probably is. However, since Jacob and others obviously like the show, and this topic is of interest of Jacob, why not link the two and use the tv show as a jumping off point?

    We did the same thing when Jack Bauer did the torture thing in 24. It’s just where people share a like for a show and then discuss it in terms of a topic of mutual interest.

    Quite honestly, with all of your “Maoists” and “echo chamber” and “cult doctrines”, certainly doesn’t seem as if you felt as though this wasn’t worth discussing – quite the opposite: you felt it was worth commenting on for those reasons.

    Now which is it? Trivial or proof of cult-like dogmatic echo chambering?

    (Or: why don’t you throw out some thoughts why you feel that way? Leave the TV out of it and talk about your opinions about drug use and abuse and legality and illegality)

  54. Reader limits remarks on banal post to the derision it deserves and is mildly amused by feable attempts to insult him with stupid game allusions.

  55. Reader continues to make banal derisive remarks on post while other readers are mildly amused.

    Everyone’s AA sponsor has to take a drink.

  56. I actually wish that the writers would continue with the storyline of Wilson’s oncology practice being shut down. If they really want to expose the drug war, this would be a great way to do so.

  57. “…feable [sic] attempts to insult him with stupid game allusions.”

    Come now, Senator; you, of all people, ought to have no fear of being bested in a drinking game by a bunch of crypto-Maoists.

  58. The way I look at it, everyone should be at a zero level of pain. If someone is at a level 10 of pain (just saying), and they are taking something to alleviate that pain, as long as they don’t go below zero I don’t see how they can become addicted. Diabetics don’t become addicted to insulin; they need it to function (and live). Now, if someone is getting pain killers for a pain that is decreasing, it is up to the doctor to make sure they adjust the prescription accordingly, because we don’t want people to dip below zero because we don’t want to create addicts. However, the fear of everyone who ever uses pain medication becoming an addict is absurd, and it hurts the people who need it the most.

  59. I dunno…
    I watch Scrubs for my fake-medical-show fix.
    What’s this House thing?
    Is it half-good or not half-bad?
    Is there an evil janitor?

  60. Jesse wins the thread! Very honorable mention to VM.

  61. I took Vicodin after having four impacted wisdom teeth removed. It was very effective for the pain. I had a sense of well-being I had never experienced before (and never since.)* It was sublime. Were I not so lazy I would have become an addict (being an addict is hard work.) I’m also scared of the Big House (prison not Hugh Laurie.)

    What’s the point? Substituting Vicodin for alcohol in the Reason Hit and Run Drinking Game is just asking for trouble. Though I imagine we’d all be much more civil.

  62. Is there an evil janitor?

    heh. Scrubs, Monk, House and Deadliest Catch are the only shows I watch regularly.

  63. took Vicodin after having four impacted wisdom teeth removed. It was very effective for the pain. I had a sense of well-being I had never experienced before (and never since.)*

    A vicodin and two beers makes EVERYONE happy.

  64. I’m with you on Monk, TPG.

  65. So a low-brow TV drama will bring political enlightenment to the masses.

    Nothing else can nowadays.

  66. If Edward’s still here, I want to ask him a serious question: if you spend this much time on threads you think are stupid, how much time do you spend on threads you actually like? Is it more, on the grounds that it’s fun to spend time on an enjoyable thread; or is it less, on the grounds that a thread is no fun unless you can talk about how stupid it is?

  67. on the grounds that a thread is no fun unless you can talk about how stupid it is?

    I think you also have hit on why so many people apparently watch so Reality TV, Springer, and buy Celebutante mags…

    “we’re not like those idiots”

  68. I think you also have hit on why so many people apparently watch so Reality TV, Springer, and buy Celebutante mags…”we’re not like those idiots”

    Maybe, but what Edward is doing is more akin to going on a reality show solely so he can spend the next several weeks talking about what a stupid show he’s on.

    Seriously, Ed! How does the amount of time you’ve spent on this thread compare to the amount of time you spend on threads you actually like? Less, more or the same?

  69. Jennifer. He’s a troll. He could give a shit what he’s talking about, as long as he gets attention. Given the duration of his haranguing, I’m guessing that recess is over, so he’s stopped lurking in the library computer lab and is back to drooling in a school desk, just counting the minutes until he can ease his bulk back in front of his computer at home and demonstrate his wit to the annoyed inhabitants of World of Warcraft.

  70. Yes, Lunchstealer, I got the whole “troll” thing, but I’m still curious about just what makes him tick. Is he a really lonely guy who craves some form of human interaction, and figures that being hated is better than being ignored? Is he a low-ranking office drone who always gets shat upon by his boss, so he comes online to take out his frustration in a high-tech version of the guy who kicks his dog when he’s in trouble at work? Is he a high-school geek who posts here what he wishes he could say to the cool kids who always pick on him?

    And is trolling the only Internet posting he does, or are there other forums where he actually does normal postings? Seriously: I’ve always been fascinated by abnormal psychology, and Internet trolls offer an amazing new outlet for it.

    Were there such things as “telegraph trolls” in the Victorian era, do you think?

    (I could have finished my work and gone home half an hour ago if I didn’t waste all this time on the frigging Internet.)

  71. Eddie?

    Eddie?

    wo bist Du?

    Eddie?

    hrumph. Stoopid group home for restricting his intertubes access.

    /kicks pebble

  72. We like to think of ourselves as the Mos Eisley of forums.

    “Mos Eisley spaceport: You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. We must be cautious.”

  73. As someone who served time for (some of) the crimes House was accused of, I can’t help having mixed feelings about the show. Yes, it needed new blood, more dimensions. But, in the end, House will just go back to what he was. In reality Vicidin isn’t enough for someone with his pain issues. As I muddle through with occasionally adequate pain care, I just wished the show had taken the opportunity to educate people about the reality of chronic pain,it’s treatment, non-treatment, and undertreatment, rather than create just one more problem for their hero to overcome.

  74. Legend: good points

    although Fox News Channel seems ridiculously right wing (not “conservative” in the original sense) and culturally prudish, Fox the entertainment television network is totally into MJ. That 70’s Show, for example. I’d feel more of Jacob’s hopefulness if other networks picked up some of these messages also.

  75. Why doesn’t House just have Blackadder or Baldrick bring him some Vicodin?

    I wouldn’t trust either one of those gits. Blackadder wouldn’t come, and Baldrick would show up with a turnip. Jeeves is your man to call.

    Kevin

  76. I hope they bring the cop back as a seriously ill guy who needs House’s medical genius.

  77. Watching the last episodes of House really reinforced my feeling that House is the ultimate libertarian character who behind a mask of arrogance, hides a ferocious stand for integrity and the refusal to compromise his values. I think Tritter represents “big government” with their belief that they can paternalize and dictate people what to do under the false pretense of wanting “what’s best” for them. I love the way it ends because it reiterates that House’s decision he needs the meds is his own. We are shown once more that he can never turn into some shmaltzy shallow character willing to give up his free will for anybody wanting control over him under the false and manipulative reason of knowing what’s best.

  78. If you really want the best deals in investment properties, you have to increase your odds by finding more deals. Who is more likely to get a cheap apartment building, an investor that looks through the MLS listings and calls it a day, or the one that uses ten resources?

  79. Great Post. It’s really interesting

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