HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html The Latest Trendy Drugs Are Old-Fashioned Painkillers
Pubdate: Mon, 19 Mar 2001
Source: Time Magazine (US)
Copyright: 2001 Time Inc
Section: Lifestyle, Page 69
Contact:  Time Magazine Letters, Time & Life Bldg., Rockefeller Center, NY, 
NY 10020
Fax: (212) 522-8949
Authors: Alice Park, New York and Jeffrey Ressner, Los Angeles

Who's Feeling No Pain?


They're Chic, Mellowing And Way Addictive

At last, America's most notorious hip-hopper and many of the parents
who hate him have something in common. Pills. Specifically,
prescription painkillers like Vicodin. Eminem, who sports a Vicodin
tattoo on his left arm, is the pill's unofficial spokesperson. Last
month, in his duet with Elton John at the Grammys, he rapped, "I'm on
a thousand downers now/ I'm drowsy." It's easy to imagine that, as
they glared at the TV, boomers around the country alleviated their
annoyance at Eminem's notoriety by swallowing the very drug their
nemesis was naming.

These days, cocaine is passe. Ecstasy is for kids. The hot new drugs
are numbing blasts from the past, the ones with which such burnished
icons as Elvis and Liz made headlines in their heydays of excess.
Young superstar actors, rappers and chart-topping singers are popping
pain pills. It's chic, it's mellowing, and some think it's funny.
During January's Golden Globe awards, Just Shoot Me star David Spade
joked, "I found 10 Vicodin in my gift basket." Michael Jackson and
Anna Nicole Smith, Chevy Chase and quarterback Brett Favre have been
addicted to prescription drugs. Friends' Matthew Perry, who has
admitted that he was hooked on Vicodin, last month returned to rehab
for unspecified reasons. "An addiction to prescribed pain pills can
happen to anyone," says Melanie Griffith in her online "Recovery
Journal," "and you have to be careful."

The trend has quickly spread from Hollywood to the heartland.
According to the latest Department of Health and Human Services survey
on drug abuse, about 1.5 million people started taking prescription
painkillers for "nonmedical" purposes in 1998--nearly three times the
number who started in 1990. "There are two reasons that people are
abusing prescription pain medications," says David Rolston, a program
director at Santa Monica's Clare Foundation rehab center. "They can be
used as supplements to street opiates like heroin, and there isn't the
same stigma associated with them."

To obtain Vicodin and other painkillers, you needn't slink off to the
rough side of town for a date with your dealer--although you could.
Last month Ventura County, Calif., issued a grand jury indictment
alleging that the Hell's Angels used a youth gang called the Outfit to
sell more than 700,000 Valium and Vicodin tablets throughout the
region--all supplied, according to the charge, by an Air Force clinic
employee. But you can also ask your doctor for the pills, and he may
not scrutinize too carefully the validity of your request.

Opioid painkillers, which include morphine and heroin as well as
prescription products like Percocet, Percodan and Vicodin, are so
dangerous because they are so seductive. They work by throwing up
roadblocks all along the pain pathway from the nerve endings in the
skin to the spinal cord to the brain. In the brain these drugs open
the floodgates for the chemical dopamine, which triggers sensations of
well-being. Dopamine rewires the brain to become accustomed to those
benign feelings. When an addicted person stops taking the drug, the
body craves the dopamine again.

This lure is particularly strong for "people who have had sobriety
problems before," says Richard Rogg, founder and owner of the
fashionable Promises Malibu--a rehab clinic where the high-profile
addict can try to kick the habit. "He'll have an operation, and the
doctor will give out Vicodin like they're M&M's. Soon, he's addicted.
I'm hearing the same old story: 'I had five or 10 years' sobriety, but
I got loaded on Vicodin, and I went out.'"

Not everyone who uses painkillers for more than a few weeks at a time will
become an addict, says Dr. Alan Leshner, director of the National Institute on
Drug Abuse. He suspects that most of those abusing Vicodin obtained the drug
illegally. Says Leshner: "It's important to separate when the substance is a
medicine and when it is abused." Just ask Eminem, who in Under the Influence
declares, "I'm like a mummy at night/fightin' with bright lightning/frightened
with five little white Vicodin pills bitin' him."
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