Philip Seymour Hoffman's death, from what appears to have been a
drug overdose, is a tragic loss. Unfortunately, there are many Hoffman's on
Staten Island and the rest of the country whose deaths have gone unnoticed; except by their loved ones.
Hoffman's death underscores that heroin use is not relegated only to the poor, the disenfranchised and the marginalized. As we mourn the loss of a brilliant actor, what lessons can we learn?
First, injecting drugs is a dangerous practice: injecting any substance increases the risk of overdose, and it exposes the user to blood borne infections such as, Hepatitis C, HIV.
The risk for unintentional overdose is much higher when multiple drugs, including alcohol, are involved. Cocaine, which seems to be making a comeback, when combined with heroin (the so-called "speedball') is deadlier than heroin alone.
If you are not ready to quit, do not use alone.
Narcan is a medication that can reverse a heroin, or prescription opioid like Roxycodone, overdose. It is an opioid antagonist; it does not get you high and can be given to anyone suspected of experiencing an overdose. In the event of a suspected overdose, call 911. Inform the operator that the person is not breathing. Individuals are at high risk for overdose when they have recently completed rehab; or have recently been released from jail.
Our society values abstinence from opioids and other forms of drug abuse; but abstinence is often difficult to achieve without professional help or community based supports, such as self-help groups.
Specialized substance abuse treatment is often necessary to achieve abstinence from a chronic relapsing condition:
Addiction. Recovery from opioid addiction can involve medications such as methadone and buprenorphine.
To help a loved one recover we must offer support, encouragement and hope.
Hugh B. Cummings, MD, FAPA
Director of Clinical Services (Addictions)
Staten Island University Hospital
If you or someone you know has a problem or is in need of an assessment, call our Central Assessment & Intake Unit at 718-356-8910 or 718-226-2800. TOLL FREE IN NEW YORK CITY 1-866-931-HELP (4357).