Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died Sunday of an apparent heroin overdose amid a growing problem of addiction and deaths due to the powerful street drug, the Los Angeles Times reports. Many prescription painkiller addicts are turning to heroin to get a similar high after they lose access to popular pills such as OxyContin, the LA Times notes. In 2011, at least 178,000 Americans used heroin for the first time, almost doubling from five years earlier, the Times says, citing the latest available estimate from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
Hoffman, who was 46, had reportedly been clean for 23 years before falling off the wagon in 2012, according to this article. His death has sparked sympathy from some circles, but as the comments to this article show, there are also many people who remain unsympathetic to drug overdose deaths.
Hoffman’s death follows the opioid-related deaths of other celebrities in recent years, including Heath Ledger and Cory Monteith. It’s not just movie stars who are getting caught up in this trend: poisoning deaths, most of which are due to drugs, have overtaken car accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S., and responsible for nearly 40,000 fatalities annually. But as Maia Szalavitz notes on Time.com, those numbers don’t have to be so high:
The majority can be avoided with simple measures — such as knowing the signs of overdose and keeping a nontoxic antidote available in first aid kits — that the U.S. has been slow to adopt. The stigma of addiction and the lack of organized advocacy for affected people have been the biggest barriers to change.