Monday, June 19, 2017

why do you think they call it dope

About a week ago I went to a lecture about opioids and literature. A professor at a nearby university was speaking at a library I recently joined.  The subject of drugs and how drugs are described in the media have been an interest of mine for some time. So, I went.

Back when I was a student, about halfway through my college years, the inebriant of choice changed from beer to dope.  Many of those who used to go to bars to self medicate or frolic, now began to roll joints.  Instead of asking buds if they wanted to go for a beer, a friend might ask if you wanted to get stoned together. Or for those more advanced, "trip" together.

I was never much of a druggie. There were a number of reasons for this.  One was that I was on the other side of the law, so to speak. In my sophomore year I applied for and received a coveted RA position. These were coveted less because there was a surfeit of those who wanted to uphold the rules, and more because the benefits were very sweet.  Room, board, and tuition.  I went to a state school and it did not cost a lot compared to other schools, but with my compensation for being an RA, I actually made some money going to school. I had been fortunate to receive what was called a Regents Scholarship which meant that my tuition was already paid for. For reasons that don't make a lot of sense, even if you had tuition waived because of being an RA, you still received a check equal to the amount of tuition if you had a Regents Scholarship.   This meant that starting when I was a junior, I was able to buy a better brand of wine when attempting to woo and wow women (still called coeds when I first started going to school).

One job of an RA was to stop people from smoking dope. This dampened my enthusiasm for exploration.  But also, on the few occasions when I indulged, I found the experience less than exhilarating and preferred liquid inebriants.  I eschewed what we called "acid" primarily because I had heard of bad trips. I thought my head was a decent asset and did not want to take a chance that some experience might dull what I thought was what I had going for me.

Still, despite being a reluctant and limited consumer of what were called drugs, I found the advertising and other media representations offensive and outrageously inappropriate.    I had and have a number of reasons for having felt and feeling this way.  As I write this now--someone who has not inhaled anything illegal in several decades--I find the portrayal of drugs an abomination.

The first reason is that there is a bogus dichotomy between legal drugs and illegal drugs.  So-called legal drugs are consumed and prescribed with no stigma attached.  Never mind that scholarly books (Mad in America for one) make it clear that many legal drugs have long lasting deleterious effects on consumers.  Yet, drugs that are not produced by the pharmaceutical companies are reviled by parents, teachers, and government officials.  If pharmaceutical companies could peddle dope, the product would come in fancy containers. This would not mean indulging in them, however peddled, would be good for you.  It just means that if you put a proper hat on some items, they are good for you, even if they are not.

The second reason is that the advertisements--public service ads no less--described the drugs in a way that were intended to frighten. I am all for frightening people about the risks of risky behavior.  But when you frighten people suggesting that behaviors are dangerous, when they are not necessarily, you become the boy who cried wolf.  When I was an RA we, the RAs, would listen to lectures from law enforcement types about the inevitable perils of weed.  It was just a load of malarkey.  If all the people who indulged occasionally in 1969 were affected as described in these lectures, there would not be enough teachers, doctors, lawyers, plumbers, accountants, etc. to serve our society.

The problem with drug usage (as is the case with alcohol consumption and all legal drugs as well) occurs when drugs are abused.  I remember a while back I had a toothache that created a type of pain that was borderline unbearable.  My dentist said he could give me something to take the pain away.  I did not want to take the drug, not because I am a tough guy on principle, but because I figured I would not want to get dependent on it.  But the waves of pain from the ache were too much. So, I succumbed and took the pills. And baby, did that feel good.  Pain went away.  Felt like singing, White Rabbit.  When I had my hip replaced a few years back they gave me a "cocktail" for the pain.  At about midnight of that night I got what all the fuss was about regarding acid. Holy smokes I was flying and it felt great.  I did not want to go to sleep and miss the fun of the ride.  But with the toothache and with the hip, there came a point that the drug did not make me feel good, it just took away the pain and I could sense that continued use would be no good.

That is the thing about any kind of excessive consumption.  The difference between me and 99 % of my cronies and the other 1 % was we, the majority. could stop. If we want to advertise to our youth that drugs are not good for them, we need to be credible and tell the truth.  Drugs, legal and illegal, can be bad for us if we become dependent on them.

The lecture, I was glad to hear, talked about some literary greats who found that being high actually had a positive (if temporary) effect on productivity.  She was careful to emphasize that she was not condoning drug usage--in fact went to great pains to describe the problems with the authors to whom she referred--when they became dependent on the drugs.  There was talk about the perils of addiction--and I heartily agree.  Whether you are addicted to opioids, beer, cheesecake, or even sports, you have a problem.  If you literally can't live with your head if there is not a ballgame on, well maybe it is time to start a stamp collection.

A few years ago  a crony from my college years came to town with his family.  His teenage kids were out cavorting and his wife snoozing when I met him in a bar for a beer.  This guy indulged in college and what's more argued forcefully against law enforcement types who "busted" kids for dope. You can imagine my surprise when he said--genuinely--thirty plus years later, that he was concerned that his kids might "get into drugs."

Say what?  When I called him on it, he Jackie Gleasoned hometa hometa, and said that drugs now are worse. Well, some are and some are not.

All of us have to be vigilant when identifying what is and what is not deleterious. We can't just with a broad brush paint some things bad and other things good without thinking about it.  If I were to caution anyone about drug usage, the first caution would be to look at the legal prescription pills they are knocking back daily.

Again, if you were to examine my  daily intake for the last forty years, I would not be arrested for anything. I should be arrested for eating an entire pepperoni pizza after the Patriots won a playoff game--or some other gustatory indulgences, but not for drugs.  Yet I think we need to be careful when we decry the evils of products regardless of their current legality.

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