Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Playing Well With Drugs: An Interview With Eddie Einbinder

In his striped shirt and conservative suit, Eddie Einbinder doesn't embody the kind of dishevelment that PSAs like to project onto drug users. But as the author of How To Have Fun And Not Die, which won the New York Book Festival's grand prize in 2008, Einbinder is a staunch proponent of drug use— the safe kind, that is. The book's second edition will be released May 1, and in November, Einbinder will debut a related documentary at a Drug Policy Alliance conference. Both the updated book and film incorporate lessons Einbinder culled while observing (and sometimes participating in) the young-adult party scene as he's traveled and lectured across the country over the past few years.

Tell me about this trip you just got back from.
I was in upstate New Hampshire, somewhere really rural, for six days at a gathering for people to just, well, do drugs in peace. There was a lot of DMT, MDA, acid, mescaline…

What are DMT and MDA?
DMT is as serious a hallucinogen as acid, but it only lasts ten to 15 minutes. MDA—also known as “sass rocks”—is like MDMA, but less emotional and more hallucinogenic and stimulating.

Sounds fun.
It’s hard to draw the line sometimes, you know, between work and play for me.

I can imagine. So did you do a little bit of everything while you were there?
No, no, no. I was watching a lot of people doing things. I did try Ether for the first time. Ether gives you a horrible headache. It’s useless. Don’t do it. Oh, and I numbed my gums with some sass rocks. Other than that, I was just drinking, getting high on hash, and playing dominoes a lot.

How old were you when you had your first drug experience?
That’s oddly not a common question. I tried cigarettes the summer I was 11. That was probably one of the more emotional drug experiences I’ve had. My 12-year-old girlfriend introduced them to me. That year I also started dipping. I was in that palace in the woods kids make for themselves as a retreat to hook up, do drugs, and eat deli sandwiches, when I packed a lip for the first time. I probably weighed 90 pounds and I was given no guidance, so I kept it in way too long—30 minutes maybe—and I passed out. I was totally unconscious. I woke up and thought, I’m definitely never dipping again.

Did you ever dip again?
Yeah. In the summer of 2003. There were 80 of us living in the woods in conjunction with a minor in Environmental Studies in the Northwest.

How’d take two go?
I remembered why I don’t like dipping much.

What other memorable drug initiation experiences come to mind?
Trying acid for the first time at 19 was a big deal. I tried coke at 20 in college at Lehigh. I have a pretty mindful approach to trying things. I believe in moderation, and knowing your limits. And doing something with a purpose rather than out of habit, or to get a fix.

Can pleasure be a purpose?
Sure. It’s about having good relationships with drugs.

So what inspired you to pursue your special brand of drug education?
It was on that trip to the woods in 2003 I mentioned that I realized that my friends and I were not putting the necessary amount of thought into our drug use. I thought to myself, why haven’t I Googled “most common ways kids are going to die today,” and put it up on my fridge? I was right that there are some blanket rules that can seriously up your odds of surviving. If you can take one sentence from the lecture I give, it should be that the vast majority of overdoses result from two or more substances at once in your body. That right there, on top of keeping in mind that what’s billed as either heroin or coke or ecstasy includes multiple substances—whatever they’re cut with for profit—is key. When people do a drug respectfully, in the way it’s meant to be done, they rarely die.

What have been the best resources for researching the new book and making the movie?
ER doctors are great. I realized that in 2006 when a girl I dated ended up hospitalized. She’d been doing a lot of coke that summer, as well as Ambien, and Valium. And drinking. I’ve since developed several relationships with ER doctors who keep me informed about what kids are overdosing on. Watching drug use firsthand is important, too. Oh, and dentists. You should talk to your dentist about meth mouth. They have the most horrible stories.

Are you ever treated like an outsider by the kids you observe?
Nope. I only ever get to observe because I’m welcomed in the first place. The participants are people who understand that my message is to educate.

And these people want to be on camera taking drugs?
They sign contracts six weeks prior to filming, when sober. This is not Girls Gone Wild. No one’s face will be fuzzy.

Are you ever an active participant during filming?
No, not while filming. Things would veer off track. It’s a more structured setting.

What do your parents think about what you do?
As long as I’m working hard, they’re fans. They realize—like most rational teachers and doctors and people I speak to—that this is absolutely necessary. I’m trying to promote honest, open health education. They understand that.

What are your thoughts on addiction?
I feel lucky I’ve never been addicted to anything. I think it’s probably genetic. Only 1.3% of Americans are addicted, though. It’s the minority. Most people are just casual drug users who might accidentally overdose, which is what we’re trying to prevent.

Do you get any backlash? If so, where from?
Institutions. It’s one of the most upsetting issues to me. Colleges are running businesses. They’re trying to ensure the safety of the school’s reputation more than the welfare of their student body by refusing to acknowledge that drugs are being done and refusing to educate kids on the safest ways to handle drugs.

Do you think people are naive to the differences between black market and prescription drugs?
People think prescription drugs are much safer. Though the misuse of prescription drugs is black market. There’s a dealer at most high schools nowadays. And kids steal them from their parents. Prescription pills have replaced weed in a lot of areas because they’re so accessible and there’s nothing easier than swallowing a pill. It’s like vitamins! It’s everywhere, and it’s causing a lot of problems. I talk a lot about how marijuana is not at all a transitional drug. People like to label weed as “the gateway” drug, but that’s a farce. I think it’s actually prescription pills that make for a smooth transition to other drugs. Adderall to coke. Oxycontin to heroin.

If you were charged with designing an effective drug awareness campaign, what would it look like?
It certainly wouldn’t have an awful, misleading slogan like “Hugs not drugs” or “Drugs are bad.” Those messages don’t work for the same reason abstinence sex-ed is ineffective. You have to be open and honest. Educate. I’d create a mandatory year-long course based on the lecture I give with a textbook version of my book. And I’d show my film, which depicts real situations supplemented with dialogue about safety measures. It also incorporates commentary from lawyers and doctors about legal and medical ramifications. We’re looking to get some interviews with people in positions of extreme opposition, too.

Like the dude who prosecuted Paris Hilton for cocaine possession and was then caught purchasing crack?
Yes. Exactly.

At what age would you educate your own kids about drugs?
Most professionals say by middle school it’s advisable, so at least by then. I don’t think I can say without knowing my child. It will have more to do with his or her behavior and level of curiosity.

What’s your favorite drug?
Alcohol’s the easiest thing to continuously have fun on and not get too crazy.

How about other than alcohol? Weed?
No. I’m useless on weed. Hash is a favorite. It’s an incredibly chill high and I’m still able to have a good time and be social. On the other extreme of alcohol, I think LSD can be one of the more rewarding experiences one can have.

How about uppers?
I’ve been into them before.

Is there a drug you haven’t tried?

Me neither! Want to do it together when we’re 75?
Maybe 90. After nicotine, heroin is the drug with the most potential to become addictive. And who wants to trust themselves injecting something?

So when’s the last time you purchased a drug?
Truthfully, since I’ve gotten into this work more formally, I haven’t purchased a drug.

Are they given to you?
If I am doing something, it’s because I’m going with the flow. So yeah, it’s usually given to me.

So you’re not a frequent drug user?
If you leave me alone to write for a week, the only thing I’d do is tea. I’m really into tea these days.

No coffee?
[Laughs] You’re mocking, but tea is a drug. And it’s a good one.

What do you think compels a person to try a drug?
Boredom, and because it’s the cool thing to do.

What’s the coolest drug to do right now? What’s trending on college campuses?
Alcohol will probably always be the biggest problem on college campuses because of its social acceptance. As I was traveling west in 2009, I heard more and more about Salvia and DMT. But your traditional popular drugs are still prevalent, like cocaine, mushrooms, and acid. And weed is absolutely everywhere.

One of the strategies you suggest to marketing representatives hired to sell your book at schools is to throw a Celebrity Overdose party where people dress up as dead celebrities. Who would you dress up as at such an event?
I’m pretty sure it’s never happened. But I think John Belushi would be the most fun to portray.

How come?
Cause he was a party animal. I’m just picturing Animal House.

Do you think you’ll encounter a problem continuing this work as you age?
I’m able to do whatever the fuck I want right now, which works well. But I’m well aware that as I get older, I might not be able to blend into the college crowds as much. I’ll figure it out. There’s a lot to be done.

Who funds your work?
The work funds the work. Speaking fees. The book. There are some private investors in the film.

Any parting words?
Yeah. I think cocaine’s a bigger issue for 20-somethings in finance than it is on college campuses. The social scene surrounding finance in general lends itself to those drugs more than any other environment I’ve witnessed. Like certain religions use psychedelics. Oh, and the people trying to pass legislature for random drug testing on campuses in New York state are moronic.

Mélanie Berliet is a New York City based writer with an appreciation for s'mores and caffeine, but not heroin—yet.

16 Comments / Post A Comment

saythatscool (#101)

See ya in 30 years, Eddie.

GailPink (#9,712)

Sounds like this guy is doing good, necessary work! Carry on!

ep (#8,509)

There's a difference between consuming drugs physically and consuming drugs as a market activity — the ethics of the two are related but should not be confused. What you're largely talking about here is the safe physical consumption of drugs. And it's true that anybody who takes recreational drugs is more likely to do so in a safe and enjoyable way if they are informed and educated.

But it's also true that the market for drugs is bankrolling an awful lot of very evil shit in the world, and anybody who's going to knowingly emphasize the business side of universities ought to at least be honest enough to acknowledge, for example, the nightmare of violence and corruption in Mexico that drug-hungry Americans are funding. That's where the money goes. You don't get to wash your hands by saying, "Well, I don't buy drugs, they're given to me." Somebody's paying for it one way or another. And perhaps the kid handing you yours has would be interested to know. Could be he might care.

turd_sandwich (#5,660)

Essentially, I agree with you, but this is a game we can play with plastic (petroleum-based) or bananas. Granted, cocaine reasonably should be seen as less essential for modern living than, say, grocery bags, but honestly, it would be easier to make an immediate shift to all domestically-produced coke than oil. I never asked the government to perpetrate a drug war in my name, and I enjoy a good line once in a while. Does the fact that I've forgone a car for the last several years balance that out, in the grand karmic scale? I have no idea, but somehow, your rant feels both condescending and hypocritical.

Regarding Einbinder, as a huge harm reduction proponent, I'm embarrassed I didn't know about this guy 'til now. This is awesome. A huge problem in this country is that everyone does drugs and that very few people recognize this fact. We need to stop using drugs as a social sorting mechanism and implementing policy based on an imagined categorical difference between use approved by your psychiatrist and use sanctioned by the CSA. I always thought things would improve if responsible drug-users would raise their hands and cop to it, but the social consequences continue to be too huge for this.

erikonymous (#3,231)

We should totally be playing this game with plastic and bananas. And Walmart and Nike and corn and every single thing we buy.
I love drugs, but acting like the marketplace for them isn't totally fucked up is totally fucked up.

i agree with almost all of what the interviewee said, but yeah. re: the violence – i don't think it's TOO much of a stretch to compare some drugs with blood diamonds, right? with the caveat, of course, that they're different kinds of goods – one derives its value from consumption, the other from possession.

and, of course, legalization would get rid of a lot of the violence problems.

Aatom (#74)

Doesn't work like this create, in some small way, a saner dialogue about drugs that might help dismantle the drug war rhetoric that buttresses those black markets?

MollyBloomberg (#1,169)

The line that resonates the most to me is, "…it’s actually prescription pills that make for a smooth transition to other drugs. Adderall to coke. Oxycontin to heroin." I've helped several friends kick hydrocodone and it's like a real-life version of "Trainspotting." Shit's serious.

ssv (#10,786)

"So, drugs are still pretty fun, huh?"
"Yeah, seem to be."

Sounds like he's thought out some hard-hitting policy arguments right there.

NY gal (#10,791)

This is the saddest thing ever. Did no one feel it important to mention that this kid is literally getting financed by his rich friends and family to snort blow and write about it? #ahole

hypnosifl (#9,470)

He doesn't mention doing coke, and the type of people who are really into drugs like hash and LSD and MDA are typically not big cokeheads.

riggssm (#760)

"When people do a drug respectfully, in the way it’s meant to be done, they rarely die."

!?!??? I mean, just, ?!?!???!!!!???

"Institutions. It’s one of the most upsetting issues to me. Colleges are running businesses. They’re trying to ensure the safety of the school’s reputation more than the welfare of their student body by refusing to acknowledge that drugs are being done and refusing to educate kids on the safest ways to handle drugs."


Yes! Colleges should provide education on doing illegal things!! And … that's when I clicked close tab, or like, scrolled down to comment.


Elle (#7,022)

Colleges provide sex education, right? Nobody thinks that's a bad idea, like, ever?

Someone once made the comparison of "Just Say No to Drugs" to abstinence-only sex education (remember how fucking useless that is?), and it made everything suddenly click in my head. Harm reduction — not encouragement, not providing access, not perpetuating a myth that it's ever 100% possible to do drugs totally safely, but educating users who are going to use anyway as to how they can lower the risks to themselves in their use is the only way to go. Otherwise, you just end up with senseless, needless deaths and lasting damage.

rickybobby (#10,800)

for someone really interested, check out Erowid.org. It's a sort of drug wiki.

Rhayader (#10,884)

First of all, the work Mr. Einbinder is doing is important and sorely needed. People like riggssm need to stop denying reality — recreational drugs are everywhere, and people like to take them. It's important, therefore, to educate people about what they're doing and what risks are out there. The comparison to reality-based (as opposed to abstinence-only) sex education for teens is a perfect one.

Regarding the comments about the harms done by the drug market — that is entirely a prohibition problem. You don't see distributors for Coors and Budweiser shooting it out on a corner to hold turf. Although, oddly enough, there was tremendous violence associated with the alcohol trade during the 1920's. End prohibition, and the black market is no longer an issue.

Finally, one small quibble — how can you love hash but dislike weed? It's essentially the same exact group of chemicals in a more concentrated form. I've smoked plenty of both, and the difference in the high is only a matter of degree; the fundamental characteristics are basically the same.

Exweatherguy (#10,891)

For many, this may work out. But for some of us, who've crossed the line into addiction, it's impossible. One drink, one snort, one hit and I'm off and running – and the result is always awful.

I might add, that with today's really powerful street drugs, it can be mighty easy to cross that line. A friend of mine recently did a 30-day stint in a very good treatment center, and was found dead, with a needle in his arm, the day after 'graduation.' Just look at how many people become addicted to painkillers. I would submit that recreational use is one fucking dangerous game!

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