Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death Raises Important Points About Heroin

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Death Raises Important Points About Heroin

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead of a drug overdose on Sunday morning. Friend and screenwriter David Katz found the actor, who won an Academy Award for his role in 2005's Capote, unconscious in his bathroom with a needle sticking out of his arm. Two glassine envelopes containing heroine were found in his West Village apartment. Seymour Hoffman struggled with drug and alcohol addiction throughout his life, and his high-profile death raises concerns about heroin addiction in the U.S. 

The 46-year-old actor first opened up about his lifelong substance abuse problems in a 2006 interview on CBS' 60 Minutes. "It was anything I could get my hands on ... I liked it all," he said of the addictive lifestyle he led after graduating from New York University's drama school in 1989. He checked himself into rehab for the first time when he was 22.

As drug overdoses outpace motor vehicle accidents as a leading cause of death in the country, friends and family of opioid users should know how they can help prevent overdose deaths.

After having been clean for 23 years, Hoffman again checked himself into rehab in May 2013. He told gossip site TMZ that he had fallen off the wagon the previous year. His drug habit started with taking prescription pills but soon escalated to snorting heroin. He had reportedly been using heroin for a week when he checked in and completed a 10-day detox program. In June of last year, he was back filming a movie in Europe. Most recently, he was seen at Sundance promoting his indie flick God's Pocket.

Hoffman joins a growing list of celebrities, including Cory Monteith, River Phoenix and John Belushi, who have died heroin-related deaths. While other stars, namely Robert Downey Jr. and Keith Richards, have come out of heroin addiction alive, the seeming frequency of overdoses in Hollywood points to a larger problem across the country.


Heroin is part of the opioid family, a narcotic that is one of the leading causes of drug overdose deaths in the U.S. Opioids, which include painkillers, have contributed to approximately 17,000 deaths each year. Since opioid are depressants, they slow down the central nervous system and can slow breathing.

As drug overdoses outpace motor vehicle accidents as a leading cause of death in the country, friends and family of opioid users should know how they can help prevent overdose deaths.

While detox is a necessary step in overcoming heroin addiction, people emerging from rehab are more likely to overdose than regular users. When users resume a drug after a period of abstinence, they tend to use the same dose that they used before. Since detox changes the body's ability to tolerate the drug, one's regular dose then becomes lethal.

Family and friends should also know about the availability of naloxene, an opioid antidote that can quickly revive a victim of an overdose. Traditionally, naloxene is rarely offered to patients when they leave heroin treatment programs for fear that it will encourage a relapse, but an increasing amount of programs nationwide are offering the antidote.

As one of the most lauded actors today, Philip Seymour Hoffman will be greatly missed. However, his death, following Cory Monteith's in July, sheds light not only on the frequency of heroin use today, but of the lethality of drug addiction.