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Rush to Rehab

This is a partial transcript from Hannity & Colmes, October 10, 2003, that has been edited for clarity.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: I'm Alan Colmes. Mike Gallagher sitting in for Sean tonight.

Earlier today on his radio show, Rush Limbaugh (search) had a surprise announcement.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I first started taking prescription painkillers five, six years ago when my doctor prescribed them to treat post-surgical pain following spinal surgery.

And unfortunately, the surgery was unsuccessful, and I continued to have severe pain in my lower back and also in my neck now, due to two herniated disks, pain which I am still experiencing because of that.

Now, rather than opt for additional surgery for these conditions, I chose to treat the pain with prescribed medication. And this medication turned out to be highly addictive.

Over the past several years I've tried to break my dependence on pain pills, and in fact, I've twice checked myself into medical facilities in an attempt to do so. But I recently agreed with my doctor about the next steps.

So immediately following this broadcast, I will check myself into a treatment center for the next 30 days to, once and for all, break the hold that this highly addictive medication has on me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLMES: Well, how damaging will this be for Rush's career, and how tough will it be for him to beat his addiction?

We're joined by the publisher of Talkers Magazine, Michael Harrison, and by the vice president and director of policy research and analysis at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, Susan Foster.

Michael, good to see you.

Susan, welcome to the show.

SUSAN FOSTER, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Thank you.

MICHAEL HARRISON, TALKERS MAGAZINE: Thank you.

COLMES: What leads…How big a problem is this from an addiction standpoint?

FOSTER: Unfortunately, it's a tragedy that affects hundreds of thousands of people across the country. This problem, there are probably 11 million people, conservatively, in the country who abuse these drugs.

COLMES: Yes.

FOSTER: There are probably as many people addicted to prescription drugs, mind altering prescription drugs, as they are to heroin, cocaine, LSD and inhalants combined.

COLMES: Right. But how difficult is it to get over this kind of an addiction?

FOSTER: It's difficult to get over any kind of an addiction. Prescription drugs is no different than that, because once you're addicted, your brain itself has changed.

COLMES: Right.

FOSTER: It affects your ability and your judgments. And so you really have a much harder time not using drugs.

COLMES: And Rush just said he's going to take 30 days and go and do this. Is that a fair amount of time? Can you put even a time frame?

FOSTER: Well, it varies by people. It varies by drug. What we do know is that the longer you stay in treatment, the greater the chances of your success.

COLMES: Let me go to Mike Harrison of Talkers Magazine.

I'm a big fan of Rush's, not a political agreer of his, but someone who realizes what he's meant to our industry. I feel for him and his family. I want to see him get over this.

How big a career issue, Michael, is this for Rush Limbaugh?

HARRISON: Well, unless he has some physical problems that really take him off the radio, I think it's helping his career, because look how interesting he is. This is purely from an industry standpoint now, taking a professional view.

He's more interesting than ever before. He's the hottest name in the news, aside from Schwarzenegger. This is a drama that's being played out. He's displaying a whole new side of his personality, and I think he's hotter than ever as a result of this.

COLMES: And you know there are going to be those people, of course, because he has been controversial, who are going to use this against him. I think that would be a shame. Here's somebody coming forward, being candid, looking to get beyond a very serious personal problem.

HARRISON: But, you know, people have been using things against Rush for 15 years. Half the people in the radio industry are competing against him, so they'd like to see him fall. And there are thousands, millions of people who hate him because of his political view.

At the National Association of Broadcasters (search) speech last week, he said, "Half of my audience hates me." So the whole idea of what are, you know, his loyal listeners going to do? Are they going to leave him? It's irrelevant.

People don't listen to talk show hosts, necessarily, because they love them or agree with them. I don't think this is going to hurt him at all. Of course, he's got a real life crisis to deal with, but in terms of his profession, it's only given a new chapter to his career.

MIKE GALLAGHER, CO-HOST: Michael, let's get back in just a moment to the whole radio aspect of this. But back to Sue Foster for a moment.

Is this…recently, Jack Osborne (search) of Ozzie Osborne fame and the Osborne family fame admitted to an addiction to OxyContin (search). Is this a prescription drug that cuts across all boundaries in terms of demographics? People of all ages, people of all economic walks of life? Or is this limited to one particular segment of the population, it seems?

FOSTER: It's not limited to one particular segment. It does cut across all kinds of people.

We do see some trends, though. Younger kids are more likely to be abusing prescription drugs across the board, opiates or painkillers in particular, than older people. Although it's a problem everywhere. Younger people, people with less income, are more likely to admit it.

GALLAGHER: Michael, you've been a great ambassador over the years for talk radio, and certainly, Talkers Magazine has represented our industry well.

From your perspective, do you think this will change Rush? I know you're in agreement that it makes him very compelling right now, this family…this personal drama, and perhaps the positive that will come out of this for people who have this type of addiction. But how will it change him down the road, Michael?

HARRISON: I hope it gives him a little more insight into the full dimensions of humanity, and perhaps he'll understand and have more compassion for people who do have problems, whether they're physical or circumstantial or economic, that are beyond their own control.

If anything, it could add more dimension to his view. And if that's the case, his power and his forum will be served to such a better end.

GALLAGHER: Do you think…Do you think...

HARRISON: A compassionate Rush Limbaugh would be a good thing.

GALLAGHER: Do you think he'll lose one single listener or one single radio station as a result of his decision to go seek help and treatment and fix this problem?

HARRISON: In total numbers, no. I think his listenership will rise, and radio stations are not going to leave him for this. They're going to leave him only if his ratings and revenue go down, and that's not about to happen.

COLMES: Michael, we thank you very much.

And Susan, thank you for giving us an important aspect of this, as well.

We thank you both very much. We wish the best for Rush Limbaugh.

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