Drug Use for Grownups

I just finished reading Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, an audacious and provocative book by Dr. Carl Hart, a professor of psychology and a “preeminent expert on the effects of recreational drugs on the human mind,”  in which he describes his recreational drug use, including heroin and methamphetamine.  His argument is that drugs should be regulated just like alcohol and in some states now, marijuana.  In America, he argues, we have the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness, as given us in the Declaration of Independence.  This, he says, should include the right to get responsibly high if it brings us happiness.  I am not saying “Right on!” to this argument but I’ll concede he does make some good points.  The reason people are dying of overdoses today is they are using in the shadows (driven there by law and stigma) and the drug supply in America is lethal due to poor mixing of fentanyl and the unknown additives added by dealers to fill out and or enhance their product.  Legalizing and regulating the supply would ensure that people are using medical grade drugs so they would be less likely to suffer overdose from an unexpectedly strong dose or other side effects from unknown adulterants, and with the recreational use of drugs being legal, they may be less likely to shoot up behind locked doors or behind dumpsters where no one will find them until they are cold and stiff.  Shout this from the rooftops.  True.

I have no doubt that heroin brings the author great happiness.  That’s what the appeal is of heroin for many — the euphoria.  Lenny Bruce famously said, shooting heroin is like being kissed by God.  However, for some, but not all, it starts them down a path that is difficult to return from.  If you have money, a good job, stable relationships and no underlying mental health problems, you may be able to use heroin without issues, just as many in America are able to drink regularly without major negative issues.  Unfortunately, there are many, some with genetic predispositions to addiction, who’s “recreational” use of heroin might lead to bad endings.

When reading a book like this, it is hard to guess if the author has any doubts or hesitations about what he writes or if like many of the talking heads on TV, he deliberately takes an extreme position and touts it.  People like unambiguous viewpoints and he certainly has his.  If he was less insistent, the book would receive less interest and the discussion it generates would be far less interesting or far less able to move established dogma, which clearly needs some movement.

Reading the book, I imagined coming home from a long shift on the ambulance, putting on some relaxing music, turning the lights down low and snorting a line of two of medical grade heroin, and then just drifting off into a bliss that would make me forget all my worldly hassles and my sixty-two year old body aches and my occasional wondering what life means.  I would just float in the happiness the author says heroin offers, forgetting about the darkness at the periphery of all our worlds.  I wish sometimes I could do that.

I have two Vicodins left from my dental surgery a couple years ago.  Some nights I think about taking one just to chill out and feel better, to escape into bliss.  But the truth is from what I have seen over twenty-five years of responding to opioid overdoses, I am afraid to even take half a 5 mg pill.  I picture myself cold and dead in my bedroom, and another medic, his boots wet with snow and ice, standing over me, calling the time.

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Here’s a story on the book and author:

A Columbia professor who uses heroin says the drug helps him maintain a work-life balance and should be legal for everyone