Why Opioid Addiction is Nothing New

I want to send a shout out to all my readers who downloaded a copy of We’re all Chihuahuas“Thank you again, and I truly appreciate the support!” For those who are new to my blog, I want to restate one of my goals which started about a year and a half ago; that goal is to read all 1,300 Penguin Classics and periodically document my progress through DaretobeWise.Blog. I am slowly making my way through this massive list, and the journey is definitely expanding my understanding of the world. Just recently by accident, I read two classics at the same time which covered opiate addiction in the past – Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas De Quincey and Junky by William Burroughs – published in 1821 and 1953 respectively. Those dates are quite far back and surprising in my mind because I always connected drug addiction with modern times. I grew up in the age of eggs being cracked into a skillet and teachers yelling “THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON DRUGS!!!”

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My parents would always reminisce about the “good old days” when drugs were never used. There is no doubt that the current Opioid Epidemic is a public health crisis – with 116 people dying a day from overdoses in 2016 (source). However frightening that statistic is, it is even more alarming when one realizes that people have been taking opioids since 3200 B.C. (source).  Of course in ancient times, the drug was not nearly as potent as modern pharmaceuticals, but it does highlight societies’ proclivity for the substance.  Morphine – a derivative of opium – became common in the 19th century for the treatment of everyday ailments. Thomas De Quincey became hooked on the drug after a severe headache – which sounds familiar to addicts today after getting hooked on prescribed oxycodone. The temporary high one gets from these drugs is explained by De Quincey…

“Here was the secret of happiness, about which philosophers had disputed for so many ages, at once discovered; happiness might now be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat-pocket; portable ecstasies might be had corked up in a pint-bottle; and peace of mind could be sent down by the mail.”

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Of course, this happiness fades, and the user is left waiting for his next fix. Eventually, the addict requires opium just to function – receiving just enough “high” to bring them back to baseline. That is the saddest part about addiction to opiates – an addict only uses so they can escape sickness. William Burroughs describes this sickness as the cells being saturated with “junk” and no longer being able to function without a regular infusion of the poison…

“You can list the symptoms of junk sickness, but the feel of it is like no other feeling and you can not put it into words…I think the use of junk causes permanent cellular alteration. Once a junkie, always a junkie.”

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This was written in the golden age of morality – 1950’s America – and highlights that opioid addiction is not a new phenomenon. Both of these writers were wrongly prescribed opiates and suffered because of doctors who failed to learn from the past. It makes me wonder if today’s epidemic would exist if we required history classes for medical students. What if today’s doctors were required to read these two books? Would they think twice about prescribing oxycodone to a teenager who just got their wisdom teeth removed? Who knows but I for one was enlightened by the experiences of these two men – helping me stay far away from any future prescription refills. What is your experience with opioids? Have you known someone who became addicted? Are they helpful in managing your pain? I love reading your comments.

Want to Join a Cult?

What does it take to start a cult? What does it take to join a cult? Both of these questions are extremely interesting because they try to get at the heart of human behavior. We are social creatures who crave acceptance – sometimes this acceptance leads people to believe in bizarre things. For example, take the Mormon cult leader Warren Jeff who controls a group of fundamentalists from prison – even after being charged with sexually assaulting children and having 70 wives.

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How about one of the most famous cult leaders of all time – Jim Jones. Jones led a group of over 900 people to Guayana, South America to start their own socialist colony. This socialist experiment in Jonestown quickly turned into a horror movie after Jones convinced everyone to commit mass suicide. I am amazed at the ability of cult leaders to have total power over their followers; I barely can keep my chihuahua from peeing on the carpet. To better understand the birth, growth, and death of Jim Jones, I read The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn. This book is exceptional and really helps the reader understand the evil of Jim Jones. Jones was a charismatic leader who never backed down and desired complete control. Unfortunately, these traits were mixed with just enough moral ambiguity that followers thought they were being led to the promised land rather than their gravesite.

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Jim Jones was born on May 31, 1931, in a small Indiana town. He was raised by an eccentric mother who defied conservative social norms with her independent attitude, beliefs in reincarnation, and prickly personality. Jones’ father was a WWI vet who could not work because of his disabilities and who had no energy to raise an energetic boy. Jones was a loner and soon began to stand out from the other boys with his religiousness. On any given Sunday, he would go to several services, not to praise God, but to understand what preaching style worked best to energize congregants. By the time he finished high school, Jones was working at a hospital where he would eventually meet his future wife, Marceline Baldwin (not pictured below).

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Jones and his wife would quickly move to Indianapolis where Jones attended some college and preached at evangelical-tent events. Jones would eventually establish the Peoples Temple in the mid-1950s – a church that trumpeted racial integration, socialism, and community action. It was at the Peoples Temple that Jones discovered the power of deception by performing false healings and false prophecy; he would many times walk around the congregation with rotted chicken offal claiming it was cancer just removed from a member. Jones quickly gained followers from all walks of life who appreciated his message of social equality and marveled at his God-like abilities. Jones would eventually move this congregation to Northern California using the tool of fear – he claimed that there would be a nuclear holocaust in the Mid-West and that they were no longer safe.

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It was in Northern California that the Peoples Temple morphed from an eccentric Christian church to a full-blown cult. Jone’s began to have his members live communally and give large portions of their paychecks to the “socialist” cause. With greater wealth, Jone’s was able to expand his ministry and garner even more membership. Jone’s quickly began to stretch himself too thin and eventually, he began to take painkillers and amphetamines. His drug use made him more erratic and power-hungry – he would gradually start asking for sex from his female congregants. This sex was supposedly meant to lift up the women, and few members resisted; he would even have sex with several male members asking some if they wanted to be “fucked in the ass” after church meetings. This “uplifting” sex gave Jones greater control which eventually expanded to increased paranoia. Staged assassination attempts led his followers to believe that the FBI, CIA, and Fascists were after their happy community.

[Jim Jones, Peoples Temple Church Services]

The Peoples Temple morphed into a military compound with several members patrolling the grounds with firearms. This paranoia and the fear of nuclear holocaust led Jones to found Jonestown in Guayana. Jonestown was meant to be a sanctuary, but it actually represented the apex of Jone’s control over his members. In 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan went to investigate Jonestown which led to him being attacked by a Temple member – Ryan escaped with 15 of Jone’s followers. Jones, in all his paranoia, told his members that the government would soon come to torture them and convert the children to fascism – to prevent this from happening everyone had to commit suicide. 909 people, including Jones and his wife, died from cyanide in the mass suicide – 304 were children.

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So how did Jone’s get 909 people to commit suicide? It began with his ability to twist the truth so that the majority of his followers believed he had special powers – all while an elite inner circle assisted with these deceptions. Why did the inner circle help him? Because they often believed in his message of social change and felt powerful being in the graces of such an influential leader. Most of the congregation was made up of poor-uneducated members who were entirely dependent on Jones for their jobs, housing, and food.

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It was hard to leave the cult because Jone’s would actively prevent dissenters and it was easy to rationalize that he was telling the truth – “If there are lawyers, teachers, and businessmen following him, then he must be the real deal.” Finally, Jones was an expert at fear which he used as a tool to further separate followers from leaving the Temple. All these things mixed to create a twisted peer pressure that propagated infidelity, drug use, bullying, harassment, corrupt morals, and eventually death. We need to study these things because there are cults today and leaders who use the same principles. Be wary of half-truths and always seek knowledge so that this particular past will never be repeated.

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From Russia With Love

The name is Bond…James Bond. This is one of the most infamous phrases ever uttered in popular culture. When one thinks of Bond they think of a clever English man who is quick on his feet and miraculous in bed. Men want to be him and women want to be with him. It seems like there are a million Bond films that have gone through more lead characters than Dumbledores in Harry Potter. I remember watching old Bond films and marveling at all the exotic locations, expensive cars, and sexy women. Unfortunately, I am nothing like James Bond – I could be a spy as long as I got 9 hours of sleep and could swoon women while wearing my bedtime bite guard. Bond is synonymous with excitement and this is why I was pumped to read my fourth classic, From Russia With Love by Ian Fleming. From Russia With Love is the fifth book in the Bond series and it was written in 1957. In total, Fleming wrote 14 bond books starting in 1953; he wrote up until his death in 1964 and several authors have taken up the series since then. From Russia With Love is considered one of the Top 100 Classics and was immensely popular when it was originally published. The plot takes place in Istanbul and entails a beautiful Russian woman seducing Bond so he can be assassinated by an evil Cold-War spy. The book has a lot of twists and overall it is a pretty fun read – my take away from it may surprise you.

Reading this book allowed me to step back to a time that many people claim to be the golden age of “morals.” The 50’s are always remembered as the era of poodle skirts,  milkshakes, greasers, and drive-in movie theaters. It was a time when teenagers only held hands on dates, drugs were a rarity, and marriages lasted forever. I always hear this from baby boomers, “society has gone down the drain in the past 50 years…kids these days.” Of course, every generation says things like this but I think the 50’s stand out above all other decades as the benchmark of nostalgic-purity. The more I read though, the more I realize the actual 50’s was far different than what was portrayed on Leave it to BeaverFrom Russia With Love is a book that contains killing, adultery, rape, slavery, racism – making modern-day Bond films look like kid’s movies. Of course, this is spy novel – I didn’t expect some liberal-hippy fest – but I did think it would be sanitized due to its systemic popularity at the time. The thing is, the 1950’s was no more pure than today – sex and violence are universal pastimes. To make matters worse, women and all non-white races were living in a time that saw systemic segregation – literal and figurative . What one realizes is that today, more than ever, people of all backgrounds are treated with greater respect, kindness, and humanity – perhaps we should rethink our benchmark? Read the book – it may brighten your outlook on the world.

As for sex, well, I mean sex is a perfectly respectable subject as far as Shakespeare is concerned. I mean, all history is love and violence.

-Ian Fleming

The Labor of Adversity

Happy Labor Day everybody! Today most of us are eating a bounty of grilled food, spending time with family, and catching up on well needed rest. In honor of Labor Day, I wanted to write a post about my most recent book All Souls: A Family Story from Southie by Michael Patrick Macdonald. This book is a memoir which tells the author’s story of growing up in the south Boston projects during the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. The area he specifically grew up in was referred to as “Southie” and was primarily inhabited by poor white-Irish Americans. The name Southie was given to this area because of its geography and because of its long history of racial tensions. In the 70’s, the city of Boston decided that Southie needed more integration and subsequently started busing black students into neighborhood schools. This led to riots, murders, and a host of drop outs by Southie teens who didn’t want to deal with dangerous race wars in between class hours. In addition to school integration, Boston began to give Southie housing to immigrants which added fuel to the already racially hostile neighborhood. The race riots and integration protests eventually subsided but the tight-knit Irish community had one big problem that would never go away. That big problem was Whitey Bulger. Whitey ran a drug syndicate that brought more cocaine per capita into Southie than any other neighborhood in the country. This cocaine led to a plethora of drug related violence, deaths, and jail time for all age groups in the Southie projects. The author grew up with 10 brothers and sisters who were all raised by his single mother. The book is full of tragic stories about his siblings and their involvement with illegal activities. In the end, four of his siblings died because of murder, suicide, or negligence by the healthcare system. Sadly, all members of the Southie neighborhood directly knew of someone who was affected by drugs. The ironic thing about Southie was that people refused to talk or snitch to the police and most upheld Whitey Bulger as a celebrity. The FBI would eventually pursue Whitey and force him to flee his beloved Boston. The hardships of this book are quite depressing but the author decided to stay in Southie and would lead support groups for those who had lost loved ones and bring out the truth of Southie’s violent inner workings.

The story of Southie is a sad realization that there are places in America where kids and families are constantly surrounded by hate, violence, and addiction. The beautiful thing about America is that people have opportunities to move up and out of neighborhoods like these and make better lives. The author of this book lived in Southie but chose a different path then his drug dealer friends.  I commend all those people who have worked hard to overcome adversity and they are the ones I will think of this Labor Day. No matter what your current condition is, you can work to improve yourself and your environment. I have been blessed with a very privileged life and I know it is easy for me to say these things; T\that is why I loved this book because MacDonald is a perfect example of someone who lived through the worst and came out of it with his head held high. This Labor Day let’s assess our own situation, work towards a better future, and always believe that we can make the best out of any circumstance.  

A Skyscraper of Hair, Debt, and Sex

I always here the phrase, “we should go back to the old times because today’s culture (youth, government, economy, etc.) is so screwed up!” Well, I think people who say stuff like that are firstly pessimistic, secondly are not well versed in history, and thirdly get most of their information from the news or Facebook. If you really look back in time we have come a very long way in terms of moral reform and improvements in our society: women’s suffrage, civil rights, handicap parking spots, freedom of religion, sexual harassment policies, decreased teenage pregnancy rates, etc. I was reminded of the occurrences of debauchery in the past with my most recent book Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman. Lady Georgiana Spencer was alive during the tumultuous times of late 18th century England; think American Revolution, French Revolution, Napoleonic Wars, King George III going crazy, and the London newspapers obsessing over the aristocrats of the time. Georgiana married the Duke of Devonshire at the age of 17 in 1774 and was thrown into the weird intricacies of noble life: making sure your curtsy was low enough, you could host daily social events, and you could be up on the newest fashion. Well, Georgiana was able to fit right into her new role and soon became the leader of the “Ton”-the who’s who of England society at the time. Everything that she did in terms of fashion was mimicked including skyscraper hair that would make 80’s styles look like bowl haircuts. She was the queen bee and spent nearly every night of her youth drinking and gambling to the point of ridiculousness. Think spring break in Cancun but with fancier dresses, pompous language, and no means of contraception. She acquired over 6,000,000 million dollars in gambling debt (probably much more then this but this was the “official” number) and was constantly trying to hide this information from her husband. To make matters worse, because of her crazy lifestyle she kept having miscarriages and was constantly pressured to conceive an heir for the Duke. She did eventually have three girls and one boy-fulfilling her primary “duty” in life.

In regards to sex, the Duchess had a steamy affair with at least one known person, Charles Grey, and was exiled for a time to give birth to the illegitimate child. She also had several unverifiable affairs and one possible lesbian relationship with Lady Elizabeth Foster also known as Bess. Bess was Georgiana’s best friend but ended up sleeping with her husband and fathering two children with him. This weird triad relationship can best be explained by the fact that everyone was cheating on each other and infidelity was the norm among the “Ton.” Georgiana would spend most of her life in a constant whirlwind of gossip, drama, fear, and overall stress because of inauspicious behaviors and quickness to withhold truths. She did have redeeming qualities in the arena of political involvement. At the time, women did not have a right to vote and were very much in the background in terms of political views. Georgiana campaigned for the Whigs and was at the front and center of the party for most of her life. This is quite commendable because she was almost always scorned in the press and satirized for her efforts. In her late 30’s and early 40’s she set out to extinguish the vice of gambling and she took up learning mineralogy, literature, poetry, and a whole host of edifying endeavors. Sadly, she died at the young age of 48 because of a liver ailment (most likely caused from her excess drinking). Georgiana’s life was full of ups and downs and it is sad that she was so susceptible to peer pressure in her early life. The vices of this day and age were in full force three hundred years ago and I think it shows that history truly does repeat itself. The Duchess never found fulfillment through status, power, money, gambling, or drugs; she finally found contentment when she spent more time with her children and enriching her mind. I honestly would not recommend this book unless you really love drama and politics but I would recommend watching the movie they made out of the book-The Duchess with Keira Knightley. Don’t fall to the pressures of our modern day society and remember that knowledge is one of the most rewarding pursuits in this life.