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Romancing Opiates: Pharmacological Lies and the Addiction Bureaucracy Hardcover – April 25, 2006

3.7 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Theodore Dalrymple is a retired psychiatrist who has written cultural commentary for many publications worldwide.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Encounter Books; 1 edition (April 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594030871
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594030871
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.4 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #698,381 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Bruce Woodall on June 4, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Theodore Dalrymple has made an inestimable contribution toward productive discourse on western social ills by insisting first on clarity of language beginning with the critical distinction between `the poor' and `the underclass', a distinction that will ultimately improve our efforts to help both groups. Thus, I recommend reading his prior books `Life at the Bottom' and `Our Culture' first, unless you have a special interest in the subject of opiate addiction, which I do. Like Dalrymple, I am a physician. My experience is also with an almost exclusively white, Anglo-Saxon population; his reference group being British, and mine being a decade spent working in a rural section of the southern Appalachian mountains. The similar ethnic factor we share in patient demographics is helpful in demonstrating how substance abuse, like other underclass behaviors, is a cultural rather than a racial issue - important in that race issue mischaracterization has been a smokescreen often blown over reality by both white and minority activists for reasons other than a desire to help the needy. Here again I thank Dalrymple for bringing the core issue into focus, as we are unlikely to solve any problem we do not correctly understand.
In rural Appalachia intravenous heroin use is relatively rare. But the past decade has seen an explosion in the abuse of what is sometimes termed `hillbilly heroin', which is prescription diversion of oral synthetic opiates such as hydrocodone, oxycodone, and morphine. Of seven national hotspots of per capita hydrocodone use, four are in eastern Kentucky, and between 1998 and 2001 annual grams of hydrocodone consumed per capita increased in some Appalachian counties more than five fold.
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This is my third Dalrymple book, so needless to say I like his work. I'm giving it four stars because I like his writing style and I think he makes an interesting point, but this is a weaker effort than "Life at the Bottom" and "Our Culture". That said, here's a synopsis of the plot, and what I found to be strengths and weaknesses.

To start with the bad- it's a bit repetitive. It relies for its major premise, that we have romanticized opiate addiction, on a couple of books written a hundred years ago by obscure authors. I think his point is still true, but other than "Trainspotting" and one or two other examples, he built a rather elaborate structure on a rather slender foundation. I also had a lot of problem with his treatment of the addiction itself. A major point, which I thought he demonstrated admirably, was that opiates are not physically addicting and more than that, the physical withdrawal even from heroin is trivial. This is a salient point, and one that if true (and he makes a strong case for it) should be far more widely disseminated. On the other hand I don't think giving up much of any drug is like swearing off broccoli, and a kind word or two of praise to those endeavoring to beat their addiction would've make the book better for me.

His writing style is dry and witty and persuasive. His research is thorough, and his personal opinions are usually not left to stand on their own, but are buttressed with facts. As I said in the title, if you haven't read one of his other books- read one of them first. If you have and you like his style, you'll probably like this as well- just maybe not quite as much.
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This is not so much a book about opiate addiction as it is a mirror to the nanny society. Romancing Opiates is a continuation of Dr. Dalrymple's long, well-documented, incisive illumination of the decline of our culture. His decades' long observation of society and its ills has produced another gem. His books, this one included, notice what many other commentators have missed, i.e., the nihilism of our society has much to do with the lack of something to live for. This absence of meaning has as much to do with a loss of classical education as it does with the increasing "freedom" sans responsibility wrought by the 60's cultural revolution.

As with much of his work, he sees links in literature and follows those leads through generations. One reads Dalrymple with a quiet shake of the head as he points out what most of us know but refuse to see. As Cicero once observed, "One falsehood easily leads to another", Dr. Dalrymple has been in a position to observe the results of the Beat Generation's promise that happiness is possible in a pill. Wishing the good life does not make it happen. And perhaps as important, trying to legitimize, support, and sustain personal failings as society's responsibility only makes them worse. Thanks again, Dr. Dalrymple.
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I agree with almost all of the major points that "Dr Dalrymple" presents about opiates: it is not a horrid experience to withdraw from them, it takes some effort to become addicted, a very large many have stopped using them with no professional health care help, and most tellingly that the industry of aid and comfort to addicts (at least in the UK and western Europe) is a self-sustaining one.

Yet there is something lacking in this book, and it is that it does not try to delve further into the sense of craving that many addicts feel, except by recourse to the explanation that it is natural, when returning to one's prior life before (perhaps) forced withdrawal (i.e. prison), to return to that lifestyle. This seems shallow and incomplete to me.

It is true that one can become "addicted" to many things that do not now seem to have a neuro-psychological basis (chocolate, gambling, pedophilia, to go from the moderately innocent through the dangerous to the horrific), Dalrymple condemns from a moral perspective a phenomenon (addiction) that he does not try to understand.

I don't think that Dalrymple has ever been addicted, and has little sympathy for the sensation. As a reformed nicotine addict (among other addictions), I can only cite Mark Twain: "It's easy to stop smoking--I've done it hundreds of times." There are other addictions even more powerful, and I would wish that Dalrymple would turn his mind to these, in a constructive way.
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