Notebook

Michael Moorcock: Why banning opioids has been a disaster for me

10 February 2018

9:00 AM

10 February 2018

9:00 AM

Returning to the United States a short while ago I received a stern talking to from an immigration officer. Why had I been in Paris longer than usual? I’ve lived in the US for nearly 25 years. I originally moved to be closer to my son, who was being educated nearby, and to my American wife’s relatives in Houston. We bought an old house in a small town about an hour from Austin. Built for his new bride by the only Confederate governor of Texas after he came back from the civil war, it’s rather eccentric. We fell in love with it immediately, planning to live there for at least as long as my son was in the US. What I hadn’t reckoned on, in moving from London to rural Texas, was that my immune system, developed to deal with the particulate-laden air of the city, would turn on me and deliver a pretty nasty autoimmune disease. I’d always said it was a serious mistake to leave the city.

My son returned to London. Linda’s sister moved away. By then I was receiving outpatient treatment and it was impractical to leave. However, I routinely returned to Europe to see my children and grandchildren. On this last trip I stayed a little longer because I was working on a variety of projects. Why, demanded the armed officer as I peered up from a wheelchair, had I not yet taken US citizenship? People, she continued grimly, might become suspicious of my motives for remaining British. She snapped my passport shut. ‘Better get that citizenship!’ She seemed unaware I can hold dual citizenship, but getting it is expensive, time-consuming and I’m terrible at tests. So I kept my mouth shut. This was another example of the rise of the officious little Trumps who now feel free to act and speak according to their petty prejudices. Once, when entering the States, I felt I really was breathing the air of freedom. Now, that air is polluted with intolerance and ignorance. Even my rejuvenated immune system isn’t up to dealing with them much longer.


The opioid epidemic appears to have been handled more efficiently in the UK and France than in Texas. As an American doctor warned many years ago, once you begin to treat a service as a business, it inevitably begins to behave like a business. This was demonstrated by the US health service, where specialists have proliferated, one of the relatively recent innovations being ‘Pain Management Clinics’ which now advertise on TV. For some years only PMCs, not GPs, have been able to prescribe Fentanyl, the powerful stronger-than-heroin drug now popular with dealers and addicts. I was put on Fentanyl patches many years ago, the dosage increasing a little at a time as the efficacy decreases. Without it, I reach a state where death is preferable to pain.

The paranoid headlines about the drug in media both fake and authentic have led to many institutions running scared, behaving exactly like a business, and banning the stuff arbitrarily, without any attention to patients’ needs. While I was away, a good friend was suddenly refused further Fentanyl by our clinic. ‘Then what on earth can I do?’ he asked. Use marijuana instead, the doc airily advised. Except for epilepsy treatment, marijuana is seriously illegal in Texas. My friend was told to break the law or suffer. Luckily I found a new clinic, but word is that the Texas Medical Board plans to disallow prescriptions for far lower dosages than I need. No doubt I’ll soon be seen shuffling down to Austin’s Drug Alley trying to score some weed.

At least Texas feels more immigrant-friendly than New York. Last weekend I enjoyed the 90th birthday party of a dear friend, a Federal judge. Texas born and bred, his reading of the Constitution would probably have delighted its compilers. When I met him 25 years ago I asked Frank what he did. ‘Oh,’ he replied, ‘I have a little business renting canoes on the river.’ A Pacific veteran, Frank remained active in the law until a couple of years ago. His party was a wonderful get-together of Texas’s great and good (tolerant, if conservative). Texas benefits considerably from her border with Mexico and it’s only the racists who share Trump’s opinions. Frank’s friends are a cross-section of our inhabitants, including people from black, Mexican and Muslim backgrounds.

We mourned our mutual friend, Gino Rubalcaba, a converted Mormon of many skills, who died unexpectedly while I was away. Gino took great pride in his family. He was a hunter and fisherman of considerable dignity and self-respect, keeping all our larders supplied. Now, in spite of his age and his recent stroke, Frank is working hard for Gino’s traumatised widow and three adopted grandchildren. Like Gino, Frank is what we used to call the best type of American. Like many Texans, he believes in small government, personal responsibility and minimal political controls. It would certainly eliminate a vast majority of little Hitlers everywhere if his ideas became the norm.

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