I hadn't dreamt of Jeannie in a long time, but there she was on "Larry King Live" a few nights ago, discussing her 35-year-old son's death from a heroin overdose.
Barbara Eden of the enviable flat tummy has gone from grantor of grown men's wishes to poster girl for the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
First the qualifiers and disclaimers: Eden is a lovely woman whose heart is in the right place. She has suffered a tragic loss and wants to help others. She noted repeatedly on King's show that she's no expert and was offering only her own point of view.
Which was wrong in at least one important way.
Unwittingly and with anything but malice, people like Eden are part of the drug problem because they treat users like idiots. That is, they tell them that all drugs are equally bad, evil and harmful. From their perspective, smoking a joint is only marginally different than shooting heroin.
Any casual user of marijuana -and most people I pass on the street have been downwind from a joint at some point in their lives -knows this is a lie. And there goes credibility. Throw out the bong and the hypodermic needle if you want to, but don't insist that the two are equal instruments of destruction, as Eden did on King's show.
Kids, with their overdeveloped baloney-sensors, know it's not true. They know that marijuana may diminish their culinary standards and make them temporarily fascinated by the intricate lives of ants, but they also know that they won't necessarily be shooting heroin by sundown tomorrow.
Addicts are addicts; some, like Eden's son, may even become addicted to steroids. But a social user of marijuana is no more likely to start mainlining heroin than a weekend beer drinker is going to start stashing Mad Dog in his lunchbox.
There isn't space here to outline all the arguments for and against legalization of some drugs, but it's clear that: drugs are easy to get; the drug subculture thrives in part because it is forbidden and therefore attractive; dollar for dollar, the billions we funnel into this "war" would be better spent on education, prevention and treatment.
Would it not be better to control those substances, tax them, limit their availability to minors as we try to do with alcohol, rather than criminalize a huge segment of the population that probably includes many of our neighbors and even our own children?
The genie in the bottle is truth, and the truth is that all drugs are not awful, evil or equally harmful. In fact, drugs are often quite a lot of fun, which is why people consume, absorb, smoke, snort or shoot them. But they are also dangerous to varying degrees and can wreak havoc on users, families, friends and communities.
Truth is also this: Drug abuse is different from drug use, just as alcoholism is different from the weekend cocktail party. Rather than fight the abuse war from a moral, shame-on-you posture, which doesn't work with any age, we might try a medical model that educates with facts and urges human wisdom.
Several years ago, I interviewed Dr. Tom Ferguson, who had just written a book called "The Smoker's Book of Health." Ferguson, now an online health guru (www.fergusonreport.com), never condoned smoking, but acknowledged that cigarettes did some good things for people, which is why they smoked.
Ferguson pointed out that nicotine alters brain chemistry in ways that help improve concentration, attention and performance. Smoking also helps some people suppress anger, anxiety and cope with stress. He began helping smokers quit and/or live healthier lives by granting what they knew to be true, after which he had the credibility to influence them in positive ways.
Likewise, according to new research, marijuana helps some people with various psychological disorders, including post-traumatic stress. In a study just published in the British journal Nature, researchers found that the primary active ingredient in marijuana mimics natural molecules that help erase fearful memories, thus averting anxiety and panic attacks.
Perhaps the anxiety-reducing effect is why so many people choose to smoke marijuana? So that a better approach to curbing drug abuse, which is what we're allegedly after (right?), might be to acknowledge those benefits. Think of it as an investment in credibility so that potential users tune in to the discussion on consequences that needs to follow.