Saturday, July 28, 2007

Pete Implanted

A molecule of Naltrexone, yesterday.

For Pete's Sake, It Doesn't Work

Over the last week, Britain's newspapers have been full of pictures of a gangling young man wearing two hats, stumbling over himself. The sad casualty in question is, of course, Pete Doherty, the onetime beau of Kate Moss, ex-Babyshambles frontman, and Britain's most famous smack addict.

The reason for the renewed interest in Doherty's twilit lifestyle is that he has just entered a very expensive detox clinic (paid for by Moss, apparently), where he will undergo rapid and sedated withdrawal from his dependency.

A few days later - i.e. early next week - he is slated to have a Naltrexone implant inserted in his thigh, to prevent his regressing into addiction.

It sounds weird and maybe even dangerous. And it is - as I can attest. Because I too have taken Naltrexone to come off heroin. And I still bear the scars.

The way Naltrexone works is like this. It blocks the receptors in the brain that are particularly susceptible to the euphoria-inducing effect of opiates, like heroin. These receptors exist because the body has its own heroin-like painkiller - endorphin. Heroin "works" by mimicking endorphin, like an uninvited partygoer pretending to be on the guest list.

So far so good. With Naltrexone in your system there is no need to take heroin, because it simply won't work. You can't get high, no matter what you do.

This is where the dangers lurk. A few addicts become so desperate to get a rush they consume more and more heroin, even though they know that, with Naltrexone inside them, the smack won't have any effect. They consequently overdose and die. It's rare but it happens.

There are subtler dangers, too. Because Naltrexone stifles all endorphin-like substances - natural and unnatural - you miss out on life's normal "highs". Things that used to give you pleasure leave you cold. This can provoke a fairly serious depression. Anhedonia, my doctor called it.

All this might be acceptable if Naltrexone worked. But that's a very moot point. Naltrexone is good for stopping a serious addict going into even steeper decline. But it's a drastic and temporary measure. Rather like moving to Saudi Arabia to give up the booze. In the end, unless you want to live in Riyadh all your life, you have to come back and deal with the addiction at root.

And how do you do that? You go to NA and do the twelve steps programme. Or you just grow up.

Surveys shows that heroin addicts tend to drift away from the drug in their late 30s, almost of their own volition. They seem to get quietly bored of it. I know I did.

The trouble here, of course, is that you have to make it to the age of 37 in the first place.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Men in Love


This appallingly sentimental piece, by me, appeared in Glamour magazine a few weeks back. Hey, it was commissioned, OK?

What Makes A Man Fall In Love?

Over the centuries, there have been many attempts to explain what happens when men fall in love. And women, for that matter. The Greeks thought love was a kind of brief and bittersweet madness. Medieval theologians thought love was an intimation of the Love Divine, a shard of the Holy Mirror where we see the Face of God.

Meanwhile, modern scientists, in their charming way, say that love is a neurochemical glue, meant to stick us together for long enough to sprog. Notice, they say, how the first, fiery phase of love lasts eighteen months to two years - just the right time to conceive, give birth, and wean a child.

All these perspectives have validity. And yet none of them, to my mind, quite pins it down. And that's because love comes in so many different forms.

The first time I fell in love was with a wastrel of a girl at my University, a girl with dark eyes and a bizarre habit of burning herself with her hair crimper. We fell head over heels, we fell laughing into haystacks, we kicked through the Autumn leaves of romance. And then she dumped me.

Why did I fall in love with her? It was lust, of course, but it was also a kind of sentimental echoing. We were both a bit screwed up and the sharing of similar teenage agonies was blissful. People often neglect this aspect of love: the discovery that you are not alone.

The next time I fell in love was even more powerful, because the sex was better. Indeed, if I am honest I think I fell in love because she had this youthful gap at the top of her thighs. I know that sounds shallow, but that's because love can be shallow, and selfish. It's only human, after all.

The last time I fell in love, I fell in love because, though the girl was very pretty - I wouldn't have cared if she weren't. Being with my last partner was like that feeling you get on a frosty day in Christmas, when you walk to the pub through the snow.

All of which just goes to show how difficult it is to dissect and explain falling-in-love. But that's how it should be. Love is the inarticulate speech of the heart, that we somehow translate; love is that distant music you hear on a summer evening, that makes your heart throb yet you don't quite know why.

What makes a man fall in love? Love.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Nostradamus and the Neo-Cons

Not so comical now.

I'm still in Asia. Here's something semi-serious about Iraq.

Pre-War Predictions Assessed

Are we near the endgame in Iraq, at least for the Coalition? With Dubya himself admitting his country has "war fatigue" - and senior Republicans contemplating withdrawal - it looks that way.

Which makes this, perhaps, a good time to look back at the various predictions made about the war, over the last few years.

Here are some of the statements made by members of the Coalition.

"My belief is that we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators... I think it will go relatively quickly." US Vice President Dick Cheney, March 2003.

"The Iraqi people understand what this crisis is about. Like the people of France in the 1940s, they view us as their hoped-for liberator." Deputy Defense Secretary Wolfowitz, March 2003.

Tony Blair, Spring 2003: "That we will encounter more difficulties and anxious moments in the days ahead is certain. But no less certain, indeed more so, is coalition victory."

"I think we are in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." Dick Cheney, June 2005. "I believe you are going to see the rise of democracy in many countries in the broader Middle East, which will lay the foundation for peace." George Bush, June 2005. "Saddam Hussein will be responsible for many, many more deaths even in one year than we will be in any conflict." Tony Blair, January 2003.

Four years later, after 100,000-600,000 deaths, two million refugees, an ongoing insurgency and the bloody retreat of Coalition forces, those predictions don't look so good.

But who was right? Saudi Minister Faisal told the BBC before the war that "US and British troops will be bogged down in Iraq for years. The real beneficiary will be the government in Iran." That now looks pretty accurate.

Also accurate were the German politicians who foresaw "hundreds of thousands of deaths", and Jacques Chirac, who predicted civil war, in a private dinner with Tony Blair, weeks before the conflict. Then there was the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who wrote: "We risk the lives of hundreds and thousands in a region that could rapidly spiral down into chaos." Even Richard Littlejohn, the much-ridiculed Sun columnist, said this, in January 2002: "This war could last for decades."

However, the most bizarrely accurate predictions came from quite another sources, and a rather unlikely one at that. Comical Ali.

Remember him - Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf? He was Saddam's war spokesman, who was globally ridiculed for predicting the triumph of Baathist forces - even as the Abrams tanks visibly rumbled into Baghdad. Sahhaf now lives quietly in the United Arab Emirates, with his family, following a brief arrest.

But perhaps he should consider a new job as a soothsayer. Because some of his predictions about the Iraq war now read as horribly and unamusingly prescient.

Take this one: "Do not be hasty because your disappointment will be huge. You will reap nothing from this aggressive war.. except disgrace and defeat." Or this one: "Washington has thrown its soldiers on the fire". He also said: '"We will embroil them, confuse them, and keep them in the quagmire."

Just before the US forces marched in, he said this: "They are deceiving their soldiers and officers that.. invading Iraq will be a picnic. This is a stupid lie. What they are facing is a definite death."

In the light of this, here's one reasonable prediction we can all make: we won't be invading anyone else any time soon.