Janet Street-Porter: The magic pills that cure our modern ills

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The Independent Online

The death of Anna Nicole Smith last month was a tawdry end for a larger-than-life character. The glamorous former Playboy model was found dead in her hotel room in Florida, having taken a cocktail of nine different drugs.

There's no doubt that Anna Nicole was extremely depressed - two men were claiming paternity of her small daughter and her son had died in mysterious circumstances. She was locked in a bitter legal battle with her ex-husband's family. Oil tycoon J Howard Marshall had died aged 94, more than half a century older than his voluptuous wife, leaving an estate worth over £255m. So Anna Nicole was surrounded by advisors and suitors who most definitely saw a chance to make a profit out of the situation.

At 39, Anna Nicole had turned to self-medication as a way of dealing with depression, sleepless nights and a bad fever, popping paracetamol painkillers, growth hormones and Vitamin B12 supplements as an appetite suppressant, Benadryl allergy relief, chloral hydrate for insomnia, antibiotics for flu and an acid used to remove warts! The coroner declined to enter a verdict of suicide, sensibly deciding that as she had left a half-full bottle of sleeping medicine by her bed, death was accidental, rather than planned. None of the drugs found in her body had been ingested in abnormally large quantities - death was caused by the cocktail of ingredients.

A lot of rubbish is talked about drug addiction, when what we should be looking at is abusive self-medication. Governments spend far too much time pondering about categorising drugs and whether skunk should be reclassified as a category-A drug, given new evidence linking it to schizophrenia. Most of us visit the doctor when we feel sick, get a prescription, and then take part of it. When we feel under par, we go to the medicine cupboard and pop a combination of what's there. Do you know anyone who actually chucks away unused pills?

Over-the-counter medicine is a billion dollar business in Britain, fuelled by claims and counter claims, seductive packaging, and advertising. Walk into any high street chemist and you are confronted with racks of painkillers, diet pills, vitamin supplements, tonics for flu and asthma, sprays for sore throats and nasal infections. The range is phenomenal, the potential for abuse immense.

Living in a binge society, over-eating and drinking lead to a huge intake of painkillers. People triple the dose of paracetamol and ibuprofen, combining them with codeine. Over-the-counter sleep aids are taken in handfuls; leaflets accompanying them that advise against prolonged use are ignored. These drugs need larger warnings on the packaging. Chemists should not be allowed to sell bags full of them to the same person. We demonise alcohol and cigarettes, but non-prescription drugs are damaging and addictive, especially teamed with antibiotics, prescription sleeping pills or tranquillisers.

What most people really suffer from is a refusal to cope with the real world. Aches and pains seem to dominate when other things in our lives aren't going well. We imbue painkillers with magical properties, expecting a handful of them to obliterate the negative in our day and enable us to function effectively. I've always thought that criminalising drugs was a complete waste of time, and the death of Anna Nicole Smith just emphasises that. We are all drug addicts, but we can't face admitting it.

A timely setback for rap royalty

P Diddy is distraught that his friend, Snoop Dogg, has been denied a visa by the Home Office, leading to the cancellation of sell-out shows in the UK. Last year, Snoop was arrested three times in the US on drugs and weapons charges, and he and his pals went on a rampage at Heathrow after being denied access to a First Class lounge. Diddy claims the pair planned to address Britain's youth on the gun and knife issue, by advocating peace.

Really? The only message Snoop has preached is that you can flout the law and get away with it. He might be a lovely person, but confronting any figure of authority routinely reeks of pig-headed rap royalty. Not a great role model, but one now deemed even more worthy of respect by young men, sadly.

* Piers Morgan, like my old adversary Kelvin MacKenzie, has a very selective memory. It must be a condition afflicting porky, middle-aged, ex-tabloid editors. In the serialisation of his book Don't you Know Who I Am - Diaries of Fame, Power and Naked Ambition, Piers charts his career from unemployed newspaper editor to television celebrity on a Simon Cowell talent show. Trouble is, Piers has never been too bothered by facts. He claims I was asked to go on I'm a Celebrity after he'd turned it down - completely untrue - and then attacks the programme as something too tacky for him ever to contemplate. Which is why, rather than eating bugs in the Australian jungle, he now prefers to sit on American television discussing the merits of a cow which squirts milk from it's udders. Why doesn't he just admit he's doing it for the money and to feed his huge ego?

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