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Phelps and Rodriguez Show It Pays to Take Drugs

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What does it say that Michael Phelps, the all-time Olympic gold medal champion, and Alex Rodriguez, baseball's highest paid player, have both consumed illegal substances?

Of course, I'm not saying drug use is "good." I'm saying it's ubiquitous. If people can't develop skill at managing drug use -- along with many other potentially addictive involvements in life -- they face rough sledding. Life preservation is a more basic instinct than the instinct to use or not use substances.

Rich, successful people take whatever drugs they want in secret, and it doesn't seem to harm them. What we usually hear about the evils of drug use, however, comes when celebrities are caught, or else go off the tracks, due to their illicit substance use.

Howard Stern inevitably asks famous guests whether they use drugs. Only some hip-hop and reggae musicians -- and the inimitable Willie Nelson -- admit they do. This means that all of the other entertainment figures on the show never touch the stuff -- not! This actually means that they listen to the publicists they constantly travel with and lie. (The typical rock musician admits they used to -- but no longer do.)

When apprehended for using drugs, their usual response (with their attorneys' and agents' prodding) is to immediately enroll at Betty Ford or Hazelden. Their treatment is their mea culpa -- "Okay, I was happy to use drugs, but now that you've caught me, I realize I have to pay a price in order to maintain my celebrity" (forget sobriety). Their time in the "hokey" is then presented as proof of the harmfulness of drug use. "Look, even famous people like ____ get hooked on drugs."

In fact, it's hard to escape the idea that most people with well-constituted lives who use drugs do so moderately and don't allow them to interfere with their paychecks. And this is especially true with the fabulous existences of the rich and famous (like Phelps and Rodriguez). We' re not even going into the lives of politicians and businesspeople. (Do you know that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, before he learned to keep his trap shut, happily admitted that he smoked marijuana and enjoyed it?)

On the other hand, there are obviously troubled people -- often found in show business -- for whom drugs (along with food, alcohol, and fame itself) serve as life palliatives. The worst such recent example is Heath Ledger, who killed himself using drugs in the midst of winning awards for his incredible performance in the latest Batman sequel, Dark Knight.

Do you know what drugs Ledger died from? According to the New York medical examiner, he overdosed on a combination "of prescription medications including painkillers, anti-anxiety drugs, and sleeping pills." All were legitimately prescribed -- although we may wonder if all prescribers knew about the others.

The point? The legality of the substances widely available to, and used by, many beyond the rich and famous is no guarantee of their safety, even of their non-lethalness. If you want to make sure you live a long and healthy life, you better be counting on something more than the fact that a physician told you it was okay to use the drugs (Elvis lovers -- pay attention).

Let me repeat myself: Life preservation -- health and happiness -- are more basic instincts than the instinct to use or not use substances.

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