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Book Report: Remedy/curse: Drug highs and lows

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Thomas De Quincy was born on this day in 1785, and would later write an eerie book that captured the romantic imagination, "Confessions of an Opium Eater."

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At about the same time, Samuel Taylor Coleridge was ingesting huge quantities of laudanum, liquid opium. One day he was as high as a kite and busy writing his immortal poem, "Kublai Khan."

He answered a knock on the door. It was a bill collector, who harassed him so long his high wore off.

And guess what, gentle readers, he never finished the poem.

If you don't believe me, read John Livingston Lowes' very heavy book about it.

With that as a lead-in, let's talk about other experiences with opium. Many years ago, I spent two weeks in a hospital.

One Sunday I was in great pain, and I exhausted my supply from the morphine pump.

I complained to the nurse.

"I can't do anything until I talk to doctor (it's never the doctor, always "doctor") and he's up north skiing.

She called and came back with a little tablet that looked like a piece of Sen-Sen. "Doctor said I should insert this opium suppository.

So I became not an opium eater, just an opium receptacle.

Within minutes I was in la-la land.

I've never felt so wonderful in my life. I awoke in the morning feeling as if I had just been ridden hard and put away wet.

I've never felt so awful in my life. The doctor, returned from his ski holiday came in, asked me how I felt.

I told him.

"Now you know," he said, "why they have opium dens in the Orient. It's the morning after that hooks you."

I've just finished a frightening new book, Steven Martin's, "Opium Fiend: A Memoir" (Villard Books, $26).

Martin, a freelance writer, had what seemed like a harmless hobby. He collected antique opium paraphernalia.

On a trip to the Orient to collect more pipes, he figured it wouldn't hurt to try a bit of opium, which was relatively easy to come by.

Before you knew it, he was hooked and financed his habit of smoking 30-40 pipes of opium per day by selling off his antique paraphernalia.

Finally he tries to kick the habit.

He goes it alone, no luck. He goes to a Buddhist monastery that specializes in treatment for such addictions.

It works, but then he falls off the wagon.

Finally, he gets clean, picks up his career, even gets a job as a consultant on opium for the TV series "Boardwalk Empire."

I recently read a piece in the New Yorker Magazine's "Talk of the Town" about Martin's adventure. The reporter asked Martin if he ever misses opium.

His reply: "Every minute of the day."

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