Over the holidays I picked up a revised edition of Theodore Dalrymple’s Romancing Opiates: Pharmacological Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy. The book makes for delightful reading from the get-go: How often does one come across a book dedicated “To the Staff of the West Midlands Poisons Unit”? In case you missed Romancing Opiates the first time, it’s premise is that “almost everything you know about heroin addiction is wrong. . . . Heroin is not highly addictive; withdrawal from it is not medically serious; addicts do not become criminals to feed their habit; addicts do not need any medical assistance to stop taking heroin.”
It is unsurprising, perhaps, that these myths should persist. Most of what the average person “knows” about heroin comes from movies (Sid & Nancy, Trainspotting), from literature, from the ever-expanding addiction bureaucracy, and from the addicts themselves. Such is the stranglehold these myths have on the popular imagination that, Dalrymple writes in his new preface,
He continues to aim for the truth in this week’s Spectator, with a piece in which he rails against “the notion that [drug addicts’] predicament is a matter of human rights. Should you feel inclined to reject Dalrymple’s premise out of hand—as “self-refuting,” perhaps—consider this snippet: “Let me quote Niesink, Jaspers, Kornet and van Ree’s book, Drugs of Abuse and Addiction: Neurobehavioral Toxicology: ‘[Withdrawal] is time limited . . . and not life-threatening, thus can be easily controlled by reassurance, personal attention and general nursing care without any need for pharmacotherapy.’” Read the whole thing here.
[s]ince the first edition of this book was published, I have seen neither an attempt to deny the elementary and publicly available facts on which this argument is based, nor a refutation of its logic. A few of my own friends have dismissed what I say on the basis that it is absurdly right-wing. These friends assume that every argument about every subject can be neatly placed on a single political dimension, left to right, and that anything right of center is self-refuting. In fact, I cannot see that my argument is either left-wing or right-wing: I hope I shall not be accused of naivety when I say that I was merely aiming at what was the truth of this particular subject.