Rush Limbaugh acknowledges he is addicted to painkillers

Radio host takes leave to undergo treatment

October 11, 2003|By Peter Goodman | Peter Goodman,NEWSDAY

Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh, who has spent years campaigning vigorously against drug abuse, acknowledged on his radio show yesterday that he is addicted to painkillers and said he would immediately check into a treatment center for 30 days to try to break the habit.

Limbaugh, 52, of Palm Beach, Fla., who also acknowledged that he is involved in a police investigation into distribution of black-market medications in Palm Beach County, said he began using the painkillers after spinal surgery in 1996. He still has pain in his lower back and neck, he said.

"Rather than opt for additional surgery for these conditions," he said on his show, "I chose to treat the pain with prescribed medication. This medication turned out to be highly addictive."

Last week, shortly after he was pressured to resign from ESPN for making racially charged comments on the cable network's Sunday NFL Countdown about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, it was alleged that Limbaugh had illegally purchased thousands of painkiller pills such as OxyContin.

Some of these medications have been connected with severe hearing loss, and in 2001 Limbaugh was fitted with an implanted hearing device after suddenly losing his hearing.

`I make no excuses'

Limbaugh said on his broadcast yesterday that he took complete responsibility for his situation. "I make no excuses," he said. "I am no victim and do not portray myself as such."

He differentiated himself from celebrities and athletes who returned from drug treatment "to great fanfare and praise for conquering great demons."

"They are said to be great role models and examples for others. Well, I am no role model here," he said. "I refuse to let anyone think I am doing anything great here."

Limbaugh also said that published reports about his addiction contain inaccuracies and distortions that he will clarify when he is able to speak about them.

The name of the treatment center was not released. Limbaugh spokesman Allan Mayer said, "Even if I did know, I wouldn't be telling you."

Limbaugh had told Premiere Radio Networks, his syndicator, about his plans several days ago, Mayer said.

Wavering strategy

Limbaugh, long a fiery opponent of drug abuse, has wavered over strategy. On Dec. 9, 1993, he told his listeners, "I'm appalled at people who simply want to look at all this abhorrent behavior and say people are going to do drugs anyway, let's legalize it. It's a dumb idea. It's a rotten idea, and those who are for it are purely 100 percent selfish."

But on March 12, 1998, he said, "It seems to me that what is missing in the drug fight is legalization. If we want to go after drugs with the same fervor and intensity with which we go after cigarettes, let's legalize drugs. Legalize the manufacture of drugs. License the Cali Cartel, make them taxpayers and then sue them. Sue them left and right and then get control of the price and generate tax revenue from it."

Other falls from grace

Limbaugh is far from the first figure who moralized about behavior and then was found to commit activities for which he condemns others.

Last spring, moral crusader William J. Bennett "walked away from gambling" because he had reportedly lost millions in casinos.

Stuart Fischoff, a professor of media psychology at the Fielding Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, Calif., said, "It is very possible for someone to take the high ground while addicted and then moralize about people using the less noble drugs, recreational drugs or even heroin.

"He kind of compartmentalizes, rationalizes to save his political and social point of view while nonetheless admitting he had a fall from grace."

A series of guest hosts will fill in for Limbaugh while he is off the air.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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