We have now had a few days to reflect on and gather the facts about the tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, which looks to have been caused by a drug overdose involving heroin and prescription drugs. When one truly considers all the facts and possible alternatives, it’s clear that Hoffman’s death actually proves why the War on Drugs is a failed endeavor.
But right off the bat, I need to mention a caveat. This piece and SSDP’s views in general do not support the use of such a dangerous drug like heroin or the abuse of prescription drugs (many of which are also quite dangerous), and we feel that the best way to honor such a brilliant actor and person is to help prevent a phenomenon that may have contributed to his death. So while SSDP does not condemn or condone drug use, we do recognize that some people do use drugs, and we want to make sure that as few people as possible are harmed by drugs.
Philip Seymour Hoffman admitted last year that he had relapsed into a state of drug and alcohol addiction, a problem that he had managed to kick for 23 years, as CNN reported earlier this week. Hoffman stated that he had fallen back to abusing prescription pills and using heroin, obviously a terrible combination. Hoffman believed that “[he’d] be dead” if he were as famous, rich, and young as many college-age celebrities are when they find superstardom. Hoffman checked himself into rehab in May of last year, but, evidently, his time at the clinic wasn’t enough.
It’s clear that Philip Seymour Hoffman was facing an uphill battle with his addictions his entire life, and it’s clear that the addictions that such people face are devastating conditions that they have to deal with. So why does the United States place such an emphasis on the criminal penalty of drug usage, no matter how much a person needs dire help?
A question that might be even more pertinent to this case is, why does the United States law enforcement respond to a tragic drug overdose like Hoffman’s by thinking that doing more of the same is the answer? That’s what the NYPD thinks, and that’s why they’ve vowed to find Hoffman’s “killer,” aka the dealer who sold Hoffman the brand of heroin that he used.
Sure, this search might get some bad people off the street, but it will do next to nothing to deal with the real problem of drug abuse that is on the rise in many parts of America, especially Vermont and Hoffman’s own New York City.
It looks like Hoffman died from a brand of heroin called “Ace of Spades,” which, if the name is any indication, is pretty strong stuff. Maybe so strong that the user doesn’t know just how powerful the substance that they’re putting into their body is. Hoffman clearly knew how bad using heroin can be, as he checked himself into rehab for it only 9 months ago, as the Huffington Post reported back in May. But I’ll bet that he wasn’t aware of just how strong the brand he used was, considering that it probably killed him.
Some don’t realize that the illegal sale of a drug can increase the risks of its usage. While many will agree with this point, they may still wonder whether or not there is a system that our country can use that is any different. In other words, even if the War on Drugs doesn’t work, isn’t it still the best in a bad bunch of options?
Enter Portugal into the conversation. In 2001, Portugal decriminalized the possession of all drugs and chose to look at drug usage as much more of a social health issue than a criminal issue. There, small possession of any drug is on par with a parking ticket. Sounds too radical to work, right?
Well, in the 12+ years since, drug addiction rates have been roughly chopped in half, as Forbes noted on the tenth anniversary of the policy in 2011. How is this possible? Well, Portugal also took some of the boatloads of tax dollars it was spending on drug usage prohibition and prosecution and put it towards treatment centers and risk reduction policies, in line with their new belief that drug usage should be treated as a health problem.
Such a policy could easily work here, and maybe we could even go further. Whether or not the United States government should legalize or decriminalize drugs harder than marijuana is a legitimate question, and one that is certainly up for debate. One of the arguments for legalization is that It’s necessary to admit that many people will get their hands on illegal, hard drugs no matter what, so it’s reasonable to wonder what would have happened if Philip Seymour Hoffman had been using a brand of heroin that was legal but highly regulated, meaning that he would have known exactly how potent it was. If he knew of the exact effect that an exact amount of the drug would have, he might have realized that taking such an amount in combination with prescription drugs would be lethal.
We can also mention here that tobacco remains legal today even though we now know just how harmful it can be to the body, but tobacco addiction rates continually drop. Our country has never made its usage illegal, but there are seemingly thousands of health warnings near any tobacco shop or on a pack of cigarettes, and our country socially admits that tobacco use is now bad. Such an example could prove how drug usage should really be handled in this country.
Now, some will feel that only decriminalization and not legalization, exactly what Portugal did, should be the right call, and they might be correct. But the overall point still remains, especially as it connects to Hoffman’s death. n the United States, drug abusers are condemned for their problem, and many don’t find the support they need to kick the addiction. It’s crucial to note here that one of the other substances that was found near Hoffman’s body was buprenorphine, an addiction treatment substance. Hoffman knew of the risks of addiction, still couldn’t beat his addiction, and probably died because of it.
People always did and will embrace Hoffman’s acting ability and personality, no matter whether he was alive or dead, yet very few in our nation view drug usage as a reason to help the user the way that Portugal does. It’s possible that Philip Seymour Hoffman would have died no matter what the laws were in this country. But it’s also possible that Hoffman would have felt comfortable asking for more help, or that someone would have recognized his problem and demanded that he receive extra help, if the United States put much more of an emphasis on rebuilding the lives of drug users rather than tearing them down through incarceration.