It’s easy to shrug off the drug addiction death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman as just another privileged celebrity losing control and his life. When you dig behind Hoffman’s death you see a picture that should scare the hell out of society.
Addictions to prescription drugs, which had been soaring, are dropping somewhat because of cost and the tightening of availability. The drop, however, has brought a sharp rise in addiction to heroin, which is becoming cheaper and easier to get. So society is confronting two major drug battles.
The New York Times recently reported on the town of Hudson, Wisconsin, population 13,000, located not far from Minneapolis. It told the story of a 21-year-old woman who is believed to be the small town’s seventh heroin fatal overdose in eight months.
Meanwhile, reporters from the Gannett newspaper group surveyed Wisconsin county coroners and reported that fatal drug overdoses in the state rose 50 per cent in 2012 to 199 deaths. Between 2000 and 2007 the state averaged 29 such deaths a year.
Figures from the U.S. federal government show almost 20,000 opioid drug deaths nationally in 2010, roughly 3,000 from heroin and the rest from painkillers. A large percentage of the deaths are among the young. Heroin deaths of U.S. teenagers and young adults have tripled since the year 2000.
Drug overdose deaths exceed motor vehicle traffic deaths in 29 U.S. states, says an October 2013 report done for the Trust for America’s Health organization. In West Virginia 29 people in every 100,000 die of drug overdoses.
The illicit drug epidemic also is in Canada, although Canadian agencies are not nearly as good at documenting it. Health Canada has reported that 22.9% of Canadians aged 15 years and older indicated in 2011 that they had used a psychoactive pharmaceutical in the past year. And, 3.2% of these users said they abused illicit drugs. In Ontario, 23 per cent of school students surveyed said they were offered, sold or given an illicit drug in the past school year.
Numbers. Numbers that roll in one ear and out the other. Between the 'in' ear and the 'out' ear they should be setting off some alarm bells.