We are heartbroken by the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman from a reported overdose of heroin. An actor of immense talent, a father to three young children and only 46 years old, he was also one of us, a New Yorker. We saw him in our neighborhoods and sat beside him in restaurants. He, like so many who lose their battle with addiction, was one of us. He was our greatest on-screen “everyman.”
Hoffman was open about his early struggles, talking about how his addiction in college led to rehab. For years and years, he remained sober until a relapse last spring. In the public eye, he entered treatment, fighting for himself and his family to return to sobriety. He, like his memorable Lester Bangs in “Almost Famous,” was “honest and unmerciful” in his battle with addiction, but he still succumbed to this lifelong brain disease.
We can’t speak to the treatment that Hoffman received, but we do know that he was addicted to opiates, most commonly known as prescription painkillers and heroin. Hoffman was one of the 100 opiate deaths that occur every day, and what’s all the more devastating is that these deaths are preventable.
Those who abuse opioids require professional counseling, combined with regular monitoring, as a minimum requirement of effective treatment. Their families can also benefit from professional therapy, helping them better understand the basis of their loved one’s addiction. But these essential elements of good care are often not enough. Many who have abused Rx opioids will require medication to protect them from physical withdrawal and to reduce their cravings for Rx pain relievers or heroin, and one effective tool is medication-assisted treatment. Medication can aid in the long-term treatment of opioid addiction. For many parents we work with, they say it has saved their child’s life.
Finally, it’s important to note that we are seeing a migration to heroin from prescription painkillers. More and more, these prescription medicines are harder to access and more expensive than heroin. By starting with greater awareness and action – like safeguarding our medicines and talking with our kids about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs – we will prevent more people from becoming addicted to heroin.
It’s hard to imagine how many other roles Hoffman were to inhabit – how many other characters we’d bond with in cinemas – but his work will live on. Hoffman’s own, unscripted story is worth sharing; not only to honor him and provide a reminder of his legacy, but to awaken the public to the fact that it is our responsibility, and within our power, to curb the prescription opiate and heroin crisis.