Philip Seymour Hoffman has joined the lengthening list of people who have apparently succumbed to heroin’s lethal temptation. This, paired with revelations by a study on steroid abuse, raise questions about the social environment being created. Hoffman’s death follows a string of fatalities due to heroin.
Cory Monteith died in July with both heroin and alcohol in his system. In August, a 16-year-old girl in Virginia died after a friend administered the drug to her for the first time, and according to Maryland officials, 37 people have fallen prey to a tainted batch of heroin since September.
The rise in heroin related deaths correlates to a rise in heroin use, but why are more people using? Besides the increase in heroin use, why do nearly a quarter of gay and bisexual men choose to use steroids at some point in their lives?
The DEA attributes the burgeoning heroin use partially to increasing purity and decreasing prices. First time users are also younger than in the past, dropping from an average of 25 years old at first use in 2009, to 22 years old in 2011 and 21.4 years old in 2010. The drop caused the DEA to speculate that some deaths may be due to inexperienced use. These attributes reflect changing characteristics of the drug throughout the U.S.
The majority of heroin in the United States is trafficked from Mexico and South America. In the past, up to 88 percent of heroin available in the United States was from South America, but in 2008, the percentage dropped to 58 percent. At the same time, importation from Mexico climbed to 39 percent, the highest it has been in over 25 years.
Although South American heroin remains more pure than that from Mexico, purity of the strain from Mexico is higher than it has been since 2005. The DEA reports that heroin from Mexico is at 40 percent wholesale purity, compared to 57 percent wholesale purity in the drug from South America.
Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death reinforces the increasing societal prevalence of heroin, and the recent study showing that gay and bisexual men are more likely to abuse steroids raises questions about the kind of society we have created. Why the heightened drug trend, especially amongst certain populations? Is drug use a personal or societal issue?
The study on steroid abuse showed that gay and bisexual men are nearly six times more likely to have used steroids at some point in their life than heterosexual men. The types of steroids that are abused more frequently by gay and bisexual men are anabolic-androgenic steroids, which are known for bolstering muscles. Not only is performance enhanced, but the appearance of muscles is augmented too.
Researchers Aaron J. Blashill and Steven A. Safren hypothesized that the reason for the steroid use was victimization and poor body image due to bullying and verbal and physical abuse. Corresponding depression and substance use were other factors that Blashill and Safren said could be causes of the high steroid use among gay and bisexual men. These hypotheses stem from a general correlation of depression and substance abuse. Which one causes the other remains a chicken and egg question.
Blashill and Safren’s hypotheses position drug use as a problem beyond the individual. If higher steroid use does correspond to negative body image due to victimization and bullying, it would illuminate a need for bullying mitigation and increased understanding and compassion.
Could heroin use have similar causes? With stars making headlines for drug use and overdose, the question of why celebrities use lingers in the air. Addiction has many possible explanations, and most likely arises as a combination of environmental and biological factors. Environmental triggers can include stress, peer pressure and parent involvement. Does this explain celebrity overdoses? If so, what does this illuminate about the environment created around them?
Seventeen states have legalized gay marriage, and 33 states have a ban on same-sex marriage. Legalization of gay marriage has sparked protests and outrage in some places. What is the impact on people who are gay and bisexual? Does this setting create triggers that could spark an addiction or cause low feelings of self-worth that drive steroid use?
These and other societal questions are raised by Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death as well as the recent study on steroid abuse amongst gay men. What kind of society is being created, and what are the implications?
By Julia Waterhous