Heroin: America’s Silent Assassin
Philip Seymour Hoffman was the tragic casualty of a global epidemic that’s spreading like wildfire
Philip Seymour Hoffman is widely acknowledged as one of the most talented actors of our time. His penetrating gaze and rich voice made you believe him; whatever it was he was selling, you bought it. So how could someone with such talent, expertise and intelligence overdose on heroin?
The press releases don’t tell us if he was alone when he died, or where he got his drugs from. Please pardon the uncomfortable details, but we must not forget, hide, or ignore them. Not if we ever wish to find a solution to this epidemic.
Hoffman had been suffering long before his death on February 1. He once described that, when he graduated from college, he was thrust into the fast life that is New York City. Drugs, alcohol, and basically what amounts to dangerous chemical compounds were all on the table—anything he could get his hands on.
Recognizing his downward spiral, the extraordinarily bright and insightful Hoffman began drug and alcohol rehabilitation at the age of 22. He was reportedly sober for 23 years….23 YEARS. We celebrate his dedication, commitment, and determination. But as any addict will tell you, every single day is a fight for sobriety. Arriving to your 20th year sober is certainly a reason to celebrate, but in the mind of an addict, it is no different than the first hour you stopped using.
Watch the Reel Numbers behind Hoffman’s celebrated career and untimely death, set to the trailer to his masterpiece, ‘Capote.’
And so after many years of sobriety, Hoffman checked himself into and completed a 10-day detox for drug abuse. But as we heard yesterday, it didn’t hold. We are given a horrific picture of the beloved actor, laying on his bathroom floor with a needle in his arm. Addiction is powerful, destructive and manipulating—and it killed him.
States all across the country are reporting skyrocketing rates of intoxication, overdoses and death.
The story is one that America knows well. The list of celebrities dead from heroin overdose through the years is long, and includes stars such as River Phoenix and John Belushi. Celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Robert Downey, Jr., have openly shared their trials before turning their lives around.
But forget the big names for a moment and consider the typical fatal case of heroin overdose. It most commonly involves an experienced long-term user in their 30’s or older, who is using daily. They have likely experienced multiple non-fatal overdoses prior to the final one.
In many cases, what causes a daily, well-tolerated occurrence to suddenly result in an unexpected death is the mixture of substances, such as alcohol or sedatives. One exception is the occasional overdose that occurs following a period of abstinence like rehab or jail. In these cases, the user may not be able to handle their previous regular dose.
So why is it so easy to overdose? It seems to happen to very smart people all the time. It’s not like they haven’t heard the news.
First let’s start with what an “overdose” means. In the case of opium-like drugs (opioids) such as heroin, an overdose slows down brain signals that tell a person to keep breathing. Normally, when you fall asleep, your brainstem will automate the breathing process to continue moving your diaphragm up and down and move air through the lungs. Heroin blocks this automation so that when you fall asleep, you stop breathing.
Each year, as many as 22 percent of users will suffer a near miss, one where you fall asleep and almost don’t wake up. It is so common that, for every fatal overdose, there are an estimated 25 to 50 near misses.
Drugs, especially ones made on the street, are unpredictable. But that’s the case even for doctors using precise doses and well-defined drug purity. Opioids affect different body functions to varying degrees in each person. In addition to the “high,” there is pain relief, but also nausea, constipation, and slowed breathing. It gets more complicated as people develop a “tolerance” to a certain drug. This means it takes more drug to achieve the same high.
The problem is, each side effect has its own individual tolerance, meaning that although it may take more drug to get high, it might actually take a lower amount to slow breathing down. Therefore, even an experienced user can run into the problem of slowing his breathing before he’s able to achieve his normal high.
Interestingly, most overdose-related deaths occur in the presence of others, usually fellow users. Cessation of breathing generally has a relatively easy solution: place a breathing tube and provide mechanical ventilation until the drug wears off. That is to say, the majority of these deaths could be prevented if the victim’s “friend” sought medical assistance.
via Heroin: America’s Silent Assassin – The Daily Beast.
11 Facts About Heroin
- Heroin is a highly addictive drug that is processed from morphine, which is a naturally occurring substance extracted from the seed pod of the Asian opium poppy plant.
- Heroin can be injected, snorted/sniffed, or smoked. It is highly addictive and enters the brain very quickly. Contrary to popular opinion, all three methods can lead to addiction and other severe health problems.
- There is no cookie cutter heroin user. In fact, many of heroin’s newest addicts are in their teens or early 20s; many also come from middle- or upper-middle-class suburban families.
- Tolerance to heroin develops with regular use, so after a short time more heroin is needed to produce the same level of intensity. This results in addiction.
- Health risks to using heroin include:
- Fatal overdose
- High risk of infections such as HIV/AIDS
- Collapsed veins
- Infection of the heart lining and valves
- Liver disease
- When an addict stops using, he experiences physical withdrawal which can begin within just a few hours since the last use. Symptoms include:
- Cold flashes with goose bumps
- Muscle and bone pain
- Major withdrawal symptoms peak between 48 and 72 hours after the last dose and can last up to a week. Some people experience withdrawal symptoms for as long as a few months after stopping the drug.
- Sudden withdrawal by heavily dependent users who are in poor health can be fatal.
- Heroin was first manufactured in 1898 by the Bayer pharmaceutical company of Germany and marketed as a treatment for tuberculosis as well as a remedy for morphine addiction.
- Heroin craving can persist years after drug use stops, and can be triggered by exposure to stress or people, places, and things associated with drug use.
- In heroin’s purest form it is a fine, white powder. More often than not, it is found to be rose gray, brown or black.
- Toxic ingredients are usually mixed with heroin so the true purity of the drug and its strength is usually hard to really know.
- Approximately 13.5 million people in the world take opioids (opium-like substances), including 9.2 million who use heroin.