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Opium: This Most Powerful of Plagues

David Langness | Sep 29, 2015

PART 4 IN SERIES Making the Drugs and Alcohol Decision

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

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David Langness | Sep 29, 2015

PART 4 IN SERIES Making the Drugs and Alcohol Decision

The views expressed in our content reflect individual perspectives and do not represent the official views of the Baha'i Faith.

We have never discovered more powerful drugs than the opioids.

Harvested from the opium poppy plant, Papaver somniferum, the three major opioids—morphine, codeine and thebaine—have both prevented and caused much human pain and grief.

In hospitals all over the world, the opiates have alleviated enormous suffering. In the past decade, I’ve personally seen morphine get my son through the first agonizing week after a major, near-fatal motorcycle accident, and help my wife recover from the severe pain of open heart surgery. Managed by a competent physician, morphine can do wonders.

heroinI first saw the medical miracle of morphine during the war in Vietnam, when it eased the excruciating pain of bullet and shrapnel wounds in so many injured and dying soldiers and civilians. Ironically, the American war in Vietnam also produced hundreds of thousands of opiate addicts, because cheap and very potent heroin (which the body metabolizes into morphine) was readily available in the combat zone, and many, many U.S. soldiers became addicted. On my flight back to the United States at the end of my 14-month tour in Vietnam, a third of the 240 men on the plane suffered withdrawal symptoms from heroin. That’s one reason the United States now has so many homeless, drug-addicted veterans.

During my last few months in Vietnam, I helped soldiers try to kick their opiate addictions. My commanding officer found out I was a drug-free Baha'i with some experience treating mental patients and drug abuse, and he put me to work in one small clinic trying to deal with the military’s massive drug problem. I barely made a dent. The United States Army had recently instituted its first drug treatment effort, a brutal, punitive regime that consisted of three days of cold-turkey detox, then sending the soldier back to his unit and into combat. To this day, I’m convinced that misbegotten mistake cost more lives than it saved, because most addicted G.I.s left the “treatment program” so weak, disoriented and physically drained that they couldn’t function, much less defend themselves in the next fire fight. Many of our patients never made it back for their first outpatient appointment.

During that whole process, I met hundreds of addicts. Most started smoking their heroin--$4 for each little clear plastic vial, 96% pure, made from poppies grown nearby in Pakistan and Afghanistan—sprinkled into their pot. Soldiers said “It’s not addictive when you smoke it.” That, of course, proved totally untrue. Virtually everyone who started smoking heroin went on to snort it, and many then began to inject it intravenously. Around every barracks building you could see hundreds of those little plastic vials strewn on the ground, empty.

Addicts who illicitly use any of the opioids—including heroin, morphine or opium, or the many synthetic opiates—all have one thing in common. They check out of this world, nodding off into an internal moonscape of their own mind’s making, oblivious to human emotions, to their own feelings, to any external human reality. That’s because the opiates, especially when their ingestion isn’t medically controlled and regulated, produce a powerful sense of false euphoria and an equally powerful need for more. These drugs steal your soul. No addiction is worse.

I have never seen any substance cause more immediate and catastrophic human destruction.

Perhaps that’s why the Baha'i teachings sound such a strong warning about addiction to the opiates:

As to opium, it is foul and accursed. God protect us from the punishment He inflicteth on the user. According to the explicit Text of the Most Holy Book, it is forbidden, and its use is utterly condemned. Reason showeth that smoking opium is a kind of insanity, and experience attesteth that the user is completely cut off from the human kingdom. May God protect all against the perpetration of an act so hideous as this, an act which layeth in ruins the very foundation of what it is to be human, and which causeth the user to be dispossessed for ever and ever. For opium fasteneth on the soul so that the user's conscience dieth, his mind is blotted away, his perceptions are eroded. It turneth the living into the dead. It quencheth the natural heat.

No greater harm can be conceived than that which opium inflicteth. Fortunate are they who never even speak the name of it; then think how wretched is the user.

O ye lovers of God! In this, the cycle of Almighty God, violence and force, constraint and oppression, are one and all condemned. It is, however, mandatory that the use of opium be prevented by any means whatsoever, that perchance the human race may be delivered from this most powerful of plagues. And otherwise, woe and misery to whoso falleth short of his duty to his Lord. - Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, pp. 148-149.

Whew! In another one of his tablets Abdu'l-Baha wrote: "the user, the buyer and the seller [of opium] are all deprived of the bounty and grace of God." I can’t think of any more forceful, stern and severe language in the entire body of the Baha'i teachings. Most Baha’is laws take the form of gentle admonitions and recommendations—but not this powerful law against the use of the opiates.

So if you’re ever tempted, do everything in your power to resist. Leave the premises. Walk away. Realize that with the opiates you are about to exchange a temporary euphoria for your sanity, your conscience, your very humanity. If a friend wants to try it, do everything in your power—and I mean everything—to stop him. While you’re saving your life by walking away, or someone else’s by intervening, think about this passage from the Baha'i writings, where Abdu’l-Baha praises a group of people (probably the Sikhs) who live happy and fulfilled lives without the chemical crutches so many people feel they have to use:

O ye, God's loved ones! Experience hath shown greatly the renouncing of smoking, of intoxicating drink, and of opium, conduceth to health and vigour, to the expansion and keenness of the mind and to bodily strength. There is today a people who strictly avoid tobacco, intoxicating liquor and opium. This people is far and away superior to the others, for strength and physical courage, for health, beauty and comeliness. A single one of their men can stand up to ten men of another tribe. This hath proved true of the entire people: that is, member for member, each individual of this community is in every respect superior to the individuals of other communities. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 150.

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Comments

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  • Oct 27, 2018
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    This is sobering. I read in Edward Brown’s “ A year with the Persians”, his use of opium and the approach he used to stop when he realized it had fastened hold of him. I also had no idea what an epidemic it was back then in Persia.
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