The untimely death of the much loved and talented actor Philip Seymour Hoffman on the 2nd of February this year has drawn attention to an unprecedented rise in the use of heroin across the United States of America. It is reported there has been a staggering 45% increase in heroin related deaths and overdoses in the U.S. over a ten year period and Hoffman is the latest high profile celebrity to fall victim to it’s lethal effects. Heroin has become increasingly readily available, it is cheap and potent. It is now cheaper and often easier, to obtain heroin in The States than prescription pills and its use is in such abundance now that it’s becoming an epidemic. It was a drug that was typically something people graduated to after using less potent drugs but now it is associated with users from all socio economic backgrounds and ages. It is being used in all areas from rural to suburban and the inner city. “Seeing this as a disease of the inner city or the down and outers, only increases the stigma and makes it that much more difficult for this to become a main stream issue and get the kind of treatment that these people need”, said Mark Atwood the father of Chris Atwood who overdosed aged 21 after 6 years of heroin abuse. Chris came from an affluent suburban area and is described as the “anti stereotype” by his sister Ginny who found him overdosed in his bed at the family home. He was described as an all American boy, handsome, fit and well educated with a comfortable and well rounded up bringing.
Rusty Payne, a spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said; “Heroin is a growing epidemic.” “People need to wake up and see what’s going on. People who would never be associated with a needle are now injecting heroin. You have urban and rural users, celebrities like Hoffman and the common man. Heroin touches every segment of society.”
The statistics are shocking. From 2007 to 2012 the number of Americans using heroin has doubled, from 373,000 to 669,000, according to the federal government’s most recent National Drug Use and Health survey. Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of the partnership at Drug free.org says that Hoffman’s death isn’t “an anomaly” but part of a much larger trend. He attributes some of the cause for the rise in use to a crack down on opiate pill mills. He believes that now that opiates such as Oxycontin are much more difficult to find people are now turning to heroin to try to reproduce the high that they are so seriously addicted to. It is also believed that the price difference between the two is another cause. The average price for one 80 milligram Oxycontin pill can cost up to $100 in the underground market place but a multiple dose of heroin can be bought from between $45 and $60. Rusty Payne says that heroin is more pure and powerful now than it has ever been and is being supplied in enormous quantities across the border from Columbia and Mexico and that the amount being smuggled now surpasses the amount of cocaine.
Heroin is one of the world’s most powerful drugs. U.S. government research states that one out of every four people who try heroin become addicted to it and that users can build up a tolerance to its potency quickly. Users then require more and more of the drug in higher quantities in order to reproduce that original high. It is because of this that users also try to mix the drug with other substances. Users are now mixing heroin with Fentanyl which is an opiate used to treat cancer patients in an attempt to reach that ultimate high. Fentanyl can be 50 to 100 times more powerful than morphine and up to 50 times more powerful than heroin itself. This mix is associated with an increasing amount of deaths across the country. Officials in Maryland have claimed that this deadly mix could be responsible for up to 37 deaths there alone since last September. It is also believed that a dose of this mixture is what leads to Hoffman’s death.
U.S Attorney General Eric Holder is just one of many calling the increases in usage an epidemic and an “urgent public health crisis.” He concurred that addiction to opiates and heroin is affecting people I all states “from every background and walk of life”. Holder is urging first responders to carry the drug naxolone, which if administered quickly can reverse the effects of a heroin overdose. He states that 17 states and the District of Columbia have amended their laws to increase access to naxolone which has resulted in over 10,000 overdose reversals since 2001.
The DEA has stated that the amount of heroin seized at America’s South-western border has increased nearly four-fold between 2008 and 2012, from 1232lb to 4610lb per year. This would be a clear indicator that smuggling operations are on the rise amid increased demand for the drug. They state the 95% of the drug smuggled into America is from South America, mainly Mexico.
Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his apartment with a syringe in his arm. There were 50 small bags of what appeared to be heroin also found at in his home. In a way it is sad that it takes a high profile person’s death for this issue to come to the forefront but any attention regardless of how it is gained is important because people need to know that no one is “safe” from heroin. It’s increasingly possible that you or someone you love will try this lethal drug and if they do, statistics say that it may be their first time but it more than likely will not be their last.