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May 10, 2006

A Tale of Double Standards

Kevin E. Dayhoff

Two well-known national personalities, conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh and Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D., RI) were recently in the news for suffering from the misuse of prescription medicines. The two events had different outcomes. You be the judge as to why.

The misuse of steroids and prescription drugs by upwardly mobile white-collar professions, has received much attention from drug abuse prevention professionals. These drugs are opiates such as Percodan, OxyContin and Vicodin; central nervous system depressants such as Valium and Xanax; and stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall.

In 2003, when the national news was filled with sensational accounts of an investigation of Mr. Limbaugh for abuse of OxyContin, a great big “huh?” was heard from one coast to the other.

What in the world is OxyContin? Most regular folks had never heard of it.

Law enforcement authorities began vigorously investigating Mr. Limbaugh in 2003, after the story broke, saying his housekeeper was blabbing that he was high all the time on what street-slang calls “hillbilly heroin.”

Shortly after the story surfaced, Mr. Limbaugh left his program to enter rehab program. He said was addicted to pain medication and blamed it on severe back pain.

An article in the San Francisco Examiner in October 2003 explained: “One of 59 prescription pain-relievers using the active ingredient oxycodone, OxyContin is most commonly prescribed for cancer patients and others with chronic, debilitating pain.”

Liberals had a field day with Limbaugh’s misfortune. Never mind! He took personal responsibility for his actions and did not hide behind excuses or proclaim himself a “victim.”

What was detrimental to his case, however, was the fact that Mr. Limbaugh for years condemned drug abusers with hellfire and outrage to his 20 million listeners.

Fox News related that he had “mocked President Clinton for saying he had not inhaled when he tried marijuana. He often made the case that drug crimes deserve punishment. ‘Drug use, some might say, is destroying this country. And we have laws against selling drugs, pushing drugs, using drugs, importing drugs. ... And so if people are violating the law by doing drugs, they ought to be accused and they ought to be convicted and they ought to be sent up,’ Limbaugh said on his short-lived television show on Oct. 5, 1995.”

On April 27, Mr. Limbaugh entered into an agreement with the Palm Beach (FL) authorities and “pleaded not guilty … to a charge of fraud to conceal information to obtain prescriptions,” according to Fox News.

“Prosecutors accuse him of ’doctor shopping,’ or illegally deceiving multiple doctors to receive overlapping prescriptions. They learned that he received about 2,000 painkillers, prescribed by four doctors in six months, at a pharmacy near his Palm Beach mansion,” said Fox News.

A week later, Representative Kennedy, the 38-year-old son of Senator Ted Kennedy (D., MA), crashed his car into a security barrier near the U.S. Capitol.

He immediately claimed that he was heading over to the capitol to vote – at 2:45 A.M. By statute, a law enforcement authority cannot interfere with congressional lawmakers on their way to vote under an old law on the books to prevent any hanky-panky in the political process.

Despite allegations, which Representative Kennedy denies, that he appeared intoxicated at the scene, not to mention that no vote was scheduled at that hour of the morning, a police officer took him home and no sobriety test was administered.

Howard Kurtz, writing for The Washington Post recently chronicled that just last month, in another incident, Representative Kennedy had an accident in a Rhode Island parking lot. In 1991, there were widespread allegations that Mr. Kennedy, then a state representative, had a cocaine habit. He acknowledged that he had earlier sought help and was drug free. Then in 2000, he shoved an airport security guard in a dispute over luggage and was later accused of trashing a rented sailboat.

Mr. Kennedy seems to have a history of drug-related problems. He has reportedly had a number of visits to drug rehabilitation clinics and has openly discussed having drug dependency along with mental health issues.

The day after the early morning accident, he took responsibility for his behavior by deflecting the spotlight on to his mental health problems: “This past Christmas, I realized I needed to seek help again...checked into Mayo Clinic for addiction to pain medication…”

Except for the most heartless of conservative bloggers, Mr. Kennedy has been bestowed sympathy and well wishes from a fawning mainstream media.

Mr. Limbaugh had a different experience. Unlike, Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Limbaugh is a first time offender; he took complete responsibility for his actions, sought help and has broken his addiction to prescription painkillers. After spending a mind-boggling amount of money in legal fees and years of relentless wrangling with authorities, he came to an agreement with prosecutors.

But not before his medical records were seized and released to the public and the national mainstream media ran one sensational article after another about how prosecutors were saying that he was guilty of as many as 10 felony counts and could go to prison for eternity.

Mark Levin, writing for National Review Online, said: “…then last October, the lead prosecutor sauntered into court and in response to questioning told the judge – we have no evidence that Rush Limbaugh has committed any crime! None.”

In the end, Mr. Limbaugh “reached a deal calling for the only charge against the conservative commentator to be dropped if he continues treatment.”

Meanwhile, as far as Mr. Kennedy’s public statement about his troubles, Michelle Malkin quoted former prosecutor Michael Farkas as saying: "This is an obvious attempt to garner sympathy from the public." Worse than that, Mr. Farkas noted, “it's inconsistent with his statement last night and probably indicates that he probably did commit a crime.”

Both Messrs. Kennedy and Limbaugh are to be in our prayers that they get help, recover and go on to lead productive and drug free lives. Collectively, as a society, we need to have a heightened awareness and meaningful conversation about the prevention of the misuse of prescription medicines.

We need to understand that the scourge of drugs can affect any of us and that drug abuse, prescription or otherwise, is a serious public health problem. Politicizing it will not make it better as the tragedies caused by prescription drug abuse are a very human dilemma and can affect any of our friends, colleagues or loved ones.

Most importantly, ultimately, none of us will be afforded the conveniences of being a Kennedy and dire consequences are on the horizon for any of us who might begin that slippery slope of misusing prescription drugs. Our families are at risk, careers can be destroyed and the lives of innocent victims irreparably altered.

Despite disdain for the Kennedys and discomfort with the sanctimonious rantings of Mr. Limbaugh about challenges of drug abuse in our nation, we need to keep both individuals and their families in our prayers.

Kevin Dayhoff writes from Westminster MD: E-mail him at:


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