Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead yesterday in his Greenwich Village apartment. According to reports, he was found in his bathroom, with a heroin-filled needle in his arm. It was an ugly, grisly death for someone so talented.
Unfortunately, Hoffman’s death is just a very visible sign of the significant drug problem in the United States. At the same time some states have moved to decriminalize recreational drugs like marijuana, cheap and powerful strains of heroin are producing new legions of addicts — and overdose deaths. In January, Vermont’s Governor Peter Shumlin devoted his State of the State speech to what he called the “full-blown heroin crisis” in that state, where deaths from heroin overdoses are soaring and addiction to heroin and opiates is skyrocketing. Heroin plagues cities like Cleveland, and this year in the Pittsburgh area a new blend of heroin has been blamed for 22 deaths.
Of course, overdoses are only the tip of the iceberg. Heroin use is directly associated with theft and violent crime. Addicts steal from their families and loved ones. If you know anyone who has dealt with a family member who is a heroin addict, who has seen their child or sibling turn into someone they no longer recognize, and who has exhausted their retirement savings trying to treat the addict, you’ve gotten a brief glimpse of the anguish and heartbreak heroin is causing. It is a terrible drug.
It’s tragic when a great talent like Hoffman dies so senselessly, but it’s also tragic that it takes the death of a celebrity for many of us to focus on the very serious problem of growing heroin use and opiate addiction.