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Did John Belushi die from cocaine?

Submitted by David Borden on
Reason's Jacob Sullum posts an interesting discussion in the Hit and Run blog, reacting to a New York Times story last Sunday titled "Cocaine: Hidden in Plain Sight." The NYT article observed:
[F]or a generation that has not had its John Belushi to drive home the dangers of drug abuse, references and even use [of cocaine] are open, casual, even blatant.
Did Belushi actually die from cocaine, though? Sullum quotes addiction psychologist Stanton Peele on the topic:
John Belushi did not die from cocaine and heroin use, and our saying he did is a feeble way of trying to suppress the horrible conclusions his death suggests. This man did everything he could to guarantee he would not survive. It is at least as correct to say that he died of cigarettes, overeating, and alcohol as to blame his death on one or another—or more than one—illicit substance.
Bottom line, there is more than one way to destroy yourself -- it's not always the drugs, even if drugs are in the mix. By the way, former CASA #2 man Herb Kleber figures prominently in the NYT piece. This is a bit of minor history about Kleber from a 1996 article I put together for our original print newsletter, The Activist Guide:
In the June 2 edition of the Jellinek Quarterly, a book review of a Ph.D. dissertation on HIV among drug users in Amsterdam referred to comments made by Dr. Herbert Kleber, of the Center on Addiction & Substance Abuse at Columbia University, that the author felt were motivated by ideology and conflicted with objective scientific findings. In a speech titled "Harm Reduction or Harm Production," Kleber said that HIV rates among drug users in the Netherlands had increased, and attributed it harm reduction programs like low-threshold methadone programs, needle exchange projects that he claimed "extended the addiction." An audience member pointed that HIV among drug users in the Netherlands had gone down, not up, and cited articles published in some of the most prestigious international journals. Dr. Kleber admitted that he was not familiar with those articles.
Check back soon for a Chronicle review of the new book by continuing CASA #1 guy, Joe Califano.

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