Philip Seymour Hoffman and the “War on Drugs”

Yet another celebrity drug overdose death. Many of you are probably thinking “so what else is new?” This has become so commonplace that many of us have become desensitized to news like this. As common as this is, I for one am saddened by this tragic news, and my heart goes out to the family and friends of Philip Seymour Hoffman. He died way before his time. His death, though, is just the tip of the iceberg.

Drug overdose deaths, whether of celebrities or non-celebrities is an all too common phenomenon in the U.S and throughout the world. If you count both legal and illegal drugs, as well as alcohol, we’re talking big numbers here. Deaths associated with alcohol account for around 88,000 deaths per year in the U.S, according to the CDC. Add all the other drugs and we’re talking well over 100,000 per year, making drugs/alcohol one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.

It’s often said that the only good thing to come out of the drug overdose death of a celebrity is that this provides the perfect opportunity to warn people about the dangers of drugs, especially children. Because this happens so often, almost everyone already knows the dangers, and we are often inundated with anti-drug messages, call me skeptical of this approach. I’m not saying we shouldn’t do it, but this reflexive reaction on the part of well-meaning people may do nothing or may even backfire. Sadly, according to the CDC:

“Drug overdose death rates have been rising steadily since 1992 with a 102% increase from 1999 to 2010 alone”

I could make a list of all the celebrities who died before and during this time period from drug overdoses, but it would be too long. Besides celebrities, just about all of us know someone or know someone who knows someone who died from drug or alcohol abuse. The warnings seem to fall on deaf ears. The “War on Drugs” in most ways has been an abysmal failure.

What can be done? I don’t know, but I do have some suggestions. For one thing, too many people have a cavalier attitude toward prescription drugs. Many drug deaths are due to pharmaceutical drugs prescribed by doctors; patients either overdose on them, or they foolishly combine them with alcohol because they are oblivious to how dangerous this is. Doctors shouldn’t prescribe these drugs unless they are absolutely necessary and they should give their patients ample warning about what happens if you combine them with alcohol.

The idea that prescription drugs are peachy keen, and illicit street drugs are pure evil is ubiquitous. In fact, it often seems to me that society is far more judgmental of people who are addicted to heroin than they are toward people who become addicted to prescription opiates for dealing with pain. Yet, they are the same basic thing, except that street heroin is often adulterated.

The truth of the matter is that prescription drug abuse often leads to illegal drug abuse. For example, many heroin addicts these days were originally addicted to prescription painkillers. Heroin provides a similar effect to prescription opiates, but is a lot cheaper than prescription drugs.

Like a lot of people, I used to think that drug-addiction was due to a lack of will power, but I now see it as a disease(of course, not in the same sense that cancer is a disease). This doesn’t mean that the addict is let off the hook completely, but treatment approaches should be non-judgmental. We should decriminalize drugs, even the “hard” ones, and focus on treatment, similar to the drug programs they have in Switzerland. It sounds crazy, but almost anything is better than the boondoggle called the “War on Drugs”.

Besides this, marijuana should be legalized. I don’t consider it to be in the same class of drug as cocaine or heroin. Alcohol is arguably much worse. It’s the “hard” drugs we need to be focusing on.

A more comprehensive, humane, and science-based approach is needed to help eradicate drug addiction, due to it being a complex medical and sociological problem.

*I admit this is speculation, but is it possible that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death was due to this? Heroin-fentanyl mix plaguing many states

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