Heroin use is on the upswing in many parts of the world, and most particularly in America. It has been for about the past decade, but since Philip Seymour Hoffman lost his life to a heroine overdose, critical talks are back into play. The heroin epidemic has been closely examined by the media, public health professionals, and the lives that overdoses and drug addiction have touched.
Since Hoffman’s death, many states in the country have reached out to any that would listen. In Vermont governor Peter Shumlin’s State of the State address, Shumlin has decried the heroin use endemic in his state as a full blown crisis. In Massachusetts, there have been over 180 heroin overdose deaths in the past four months alone, with no evidence of the crisis slowing down anytime soon. It is rather easy to vilify drug use and distribution, as the repercussions of both can destroy a family’s life. However, when it comes to policy makers and public officials, vilification is a slippery slope. The people who have died were just that. People. Drug addicts need help, which is often hard to get with the stigma attached to being addicted to hard drugs.
In New York, where Hoffman had his tragic passing, many different drug rings operate separately from one another, which makes heroin’s ubiquity in the nation all the more troubling and difficult to extinguish. Even more tragic is the amount of young teenagers, homeless youth, and adolescent adults becoming addicted to the drug. In Seattle, homelessness rampages the lives of teenagers. With barely any options to mentally cope with such a dark reality, they turn to drugs for an out. Unfortunately, those drugs include heroin and cocaine. Seattle has been fighting take homeless people off the street since 2005, and with those attempts, they seek to help the homeless (and usually by turns, drug addicts) ease into a better life. This effort is in concert with many other attempts to reduce drug use across the nation.
An accomplishment with astronomically high odds of working. That is to say, America cannot ever truly help drug addicted people while simultaneously criminalizing it and throwing them in jail. While it takes individuals out of the situation of accessing heroin, it does not dig into the systemic roots and behaviors associated with drug use. This is why heroin use is on the rise. When officials pat themselves on the back for putting away drug users (in hopes they will get treatment in prison), drug use across the nation continues to ramp up with increasingly deadly implications. The war on drugs is no longer just a war on drugs. It is a war on ourselves, and now officials are scrambling to find out why.
It would be problematic to say that any good has come out of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death. But the discussion of heroin is being approached in new perspectives that were not ever previously explored. When caring people put themselves into the world and individual lives of families who have lost children, mothers, and fathers to heroin, new ways to treat drug addiction may birth itself into existence. Sadly, that will not happen as long as lawmakers continue to view victims and addicts as criminals. If people see Hoffman as a shining example of an artist over the image of his drug addiction, the same treatment should be given to everyone impacted by the drug epidemic.
Opinion by Tyler Collins