Tag Archives: stigma

Hoffman’s death illustrates rising heroin epidemic

ijectionOscar-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:

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Taking action on International Overdose Awareness Day

Today is International Overdose Awareness Day. Drug overdose death rates worldwide are skyrocketing: of the estimated 78,000 deaths in 2010 because of illegal drug use, more than half were due to painkillers, according to a recent study published in the medical journal The Lancet. And in the U.S., drug overdose is now the number one cause of accidental death of Americans between the ages of 35 and 54, killing over 38,000 people in 2010; many of these deaths were caused by prescription opiates.

The painkiller addiction epidemic has also led to a rise in heroin abuse. A new report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration also found that found that four out of five recent heroin initiates — about 79% — previously used prescription pain relievers non-medically. According to SAMHSA, the number of people reporting that they have used heroin in the past 12 months rose from 373,000 people in 2007 to 620,000 people in 2011. Similarly, the number of people dependent on heroin in the past 12 months climbed from 179,000 people in 2007 to 369,000 people in 2011.

As this editorial notes, despite the widespread nature of painkiller and heroin abuse, those who are addicted continue to be stigmatized.

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