Whether you love him or hate him, want him to go to jail or not, conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh has become a national symbol for drug addiction. Rush’s recent clash with the law reminds us that drug addiction does not discriminate. Unfortunately, our drug policies do.
Rush was investigated for illegally obtaining thousands of addictive prescription pain killers. Criminal charges were dropped against him in Florida when he worked out a plea agreement which included a $30,000 penalty and continued drug treatment.
Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance has called for treatment instead of incarceration for Rush Limbaugh. “The Alliance’s guiding principle is that people should not be punished for what they put into their own bodies, but only for crimes committed against others. According to that logic, Rush–even Rush– should be allowed to deal with his issues with drugs privately.”
Rush Limbaugh’s noxious lack of sympathy for others in similar predicaments tests one’s commitment to the idea of non-incarceration, compassion and treatment for all non-violent drug offenders. Many who normally support treatment instead of incarceration would love to see Limbaugh locked up and to get a taste of his own medicine. Rush has demonized drug offenders to his national audience of “dittoheads.”
Less than two weeks ago, Limbaugh weighed in on the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) announcement that there were no “sound scientific studies” supporting the medicinal use of marijuana. His diatribe was characteristically callous and harsh toward sick and dying people who use medical marijuana as Limbaugh blathered “the FDA says there’s no — zilch, zero, nada — shred of medicinal value to the evil weed marijuana. This is going to be a setback to the long-haired, maggot-infested, dope-smoking crowd.”
This distain for medical marijuana patients is not the first time Rush showed a lack of compassion to people who use drugs or suffer from addiction. Limbaugh is the man who scoffed at the idea that African Americans are disproportionately arrested on drug charges, and suggested that the solution was to arrest more white people. Interestingly enough, Mr. Limbaugh sang a different tune when he was the white person who could have easily ended up behind bars if he was not the famous radio personality that he is.
This point is very close to my heart, as someone who, through addiction, was sentenced to 15 years to life for a non-violent drug offense. Even though, I am someone who Rush said deserved to be behind bars, I am willing to turn the other cheek and advocate for him to get treatment instead of the jail cell that I was given. Some might argue that there is a difference between the use of prescription drugs and illegal ones. But as Limbaugh’s case underscores, addiction does not discriminate between legal and illegal substances.
Limbaugh contends that his addiction was a by-product of taking painkillers for chronic pain from a back injury. Many people with diseases ranging from back pain to cancer use marijuana to treat pain, nausea, glaucoma and various other symptoms associated with their conditions. Instead of pot, Limbaugh chose painkillers to treat his ailments. What’s the difference? One drug is demonized, while the other is not.
One can only hope Limbaugh’s experiences with addiction and the drug war will encourage him to join the movement to reform drug policy. Mr. Limbaugh has an enormous platform and reach. If he decided to take up the cause of treatment instead of incarceration for drug users, he could help change laws across the country. After all, if treatment instead of jail is good enough for him as he struggles with his addiction, surely it is good enough for the thousands of others just like him who struggle with their substance abuse every day.