Drug and Alcohol News (JoinTogether.com)
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday called the increase in heroin overdoses “an urgent and growing public health crisis,” The Washington Post reports.
Holder, who spoke in a video message on the Justice Department’s website, said the government is encouraging emergency personnel to carry the overdose antidote naloxone. The government is also targeting violent drug traffickers who bring heroin into the United States, Holder stated. He noted the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has opened more than 4,500 heroin-related investigations since 2011.
“Confronting this crisis will require a combination of enforcement and treatment. The Justice Department is committed to both,” he said in the video.
Naloxone is becoming more widely available nationwide. California greatly expanded availability of the treatment as of January 1. Currently 17 states and the District of Columbia have adopted laws allowing family and friends of people who are addicted to heroin or prescription opioids to have the antidote.
The treatment, sold under the brand name Narcan, has been used for many years by paramedics and doctors in emergency rooms. It is administered by nasal spray. The medication blocks the ability of heroin or opioid painkillers to attach to brain cells. The U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy says it is encouraging police departments to carry Narcan.
In his statement, Holder said the DEA is trying to reduce the supply of heroin “at all levels of the supply chain.” Officials are also working with law enforcement, physicians and others to increase prevention and treatment programs for heroin and prescription opioids. “It’s clear that opiate addiction is an urgent — and growing — public health crisis,” he said.
Substance abuse treatment providers say patients are having problems getting their care covered, even though such treatment is now considered an essential health benefit under the Affordable Care Act.
The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act requires larger employer-based insurance plans to cover psychiatric illnesses and substance use disorders in the same way they do illnesses such as cancer and multiple sclerosis. The law was passed in 2008 and went into effect for most plans in 2010.
USA Today reports as of January 1, the Affordable Care Act added mental health and substance abuse treatment to its list of essential health benefits that must be covered in individual and small business health insurance plans. Coverage of this treatment cannot be any more restrictive than medical coverage, the article notes.
“Many providers … report less days and more difficulty with reimbursement since the final rules were established,” Michael Walsh, CEO of the National Association of Addiction Treatment Professionals (NAATP), told the newspaper. He said many providers and insurers disagree “as to what the practical implementation of the rules should be and what should be covered.”
A survey by the NAATP shows 63 percent of denials for substance abuse treatment coverage since last July have involved disagreement over what qualifies as a medical necessity. “There’s a lot of confusion within the industry on how health care reform is going to be enforced,” said Nate Kasper, a Kansas treatment facility executive who heads the NAATP study.
Ben Brafman, CEO of Destination Hope treatment center in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said that since the new essential benefits rule has been in effect, insurance companies have become more strict about what they will allow. In many cases where his center says patients need 30 days of in-patient treatment, insurance companies are only approving up to five days.
Americans’ cocaine use fell by about half from 2006 to 2010, while their use of marijuana jumped by more than 30 percent, a new report concludes.
The report, by the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, estimated Americans spent $100 billion annually on cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine between 2000 and 2010, according to HealthDay. During the decade studied, heroin use remained fairly stable. Use of methamphetamine increased sharply during the first half of the decade, and then decreased.
In 2000, Americans spent much more on cocaine than on marijuana, but that spending pattern had reversed by 2010, the article notes. The report does not cover the recent increases in heroin use, or the effects of laws in Colorado and Washington state that have legalized recreational use of marijuana.
“Our analysis shows that Americans likely spent more than one trillion dollars on cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine between 2000 and 2010,” lead researcher Beau Kilmer said in a news release. He noted the increase in marijuana use appears to be related to a rise in the number of people who said they use the drug every day or almost every day.
The figures for marijuana use come from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, while estimates for use of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine are largely based on information from the Arrestee Drug Abuse Monitoring Program (ADAM). The federal government recently stopped funding for ADAM, the researchers note. They say it will be much more difficult to track the abuse of these drugs in the future.
Legislators in a number of states are continuing to pursue measures that would deny welfare benefits to people who use illegal drugs, according to USA Today.
In December, a federal judge in Florida ruled the state’s drug-test requirement was unconstitutional. Florida’s law required welfare applicants to undergo mandatory drug testing. Judge Mary S. Scriven of the United States District Court in Orlando ruled the testing requirement violated the protection against unreasonable searches.
State legislators around the country are considering drug-testing bills they hope will withstand legal challenges, the article notes. Some measures would require written tests designed to spot people who abuse drugs, while others would deny benefits to people with recent drug convictions.
Alabama, Indiana and Mississippi are among the states where drug-testing measures have advanced in state legislatures with overwhelming majorities. Some legislators say they support drug testing to encourage people who use drugs, while on public assistance, to get help. Others say they want to save money, or to make sure tax dollars do not subsidize drug use.
“Some states have gotten smarter,” said Jason Williamson, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposes drug-testing laws. “There are certainly ways that a state could formulate one of these programs that would make it very difficult to challenge.”
The Partnership at Drugfree.org’s advocacy effort to stop Urban Outfitters – a national retail store popular with teens – from selling products made to look like prescription drug bottles, received an Honorable Mention at the PRNews Nonprofit PR Awards, on Wednesday, February 26.
Our work was nominated in the “Advocacy Campaign and Lobbying Efforts” category and was recognized for the use of a wide range of strategies (e.g. media, special events, Web content) where outcomes demonstrated change.
Last year, The Partnership at Drugfree.org learned that Urban Outfitters was selling pint glasses, flasks and shot glasses made to look like prescription pill bottles. Tongue-in-cheek products that normalize and promote prescription drug abuse reinforce the misperception about the dangers associated with abusing medicine and put more teens at risk. Therefore, we urged our supporters, online communities, partners and the public at large to ask Urban Outfitters to remove the products from their stores and website immediately.
After nearly a month a half of our campaign, Urban Outfitters made a statement on Friday, June 14, 2013 via CNN online that they would remove the prescription pill bottle themed products from their stores and website.
Washington state issued its first license to produce and process recreational marijuana this week. The grower who received the license says he expects to have marijuana plants ready to harvest within two months, Reuters reports.
The Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) issued the license to Sean Green, who will operate his business under the trade name Kouchlock Productions, the board said in a statement. Green already grows and sells medical marijuana. He has 5,000 square feet of cultivation space, but the new license will allow him to have 21,000 square feet to cultivate recreational-use marijuana.
In November 2012, Colorado and Washington state voted to legalize small amounts of marijuana for recreational use for anyone at least 21 years old. While marijuana remains illegal under federal law, the Justice Department has announced it will allow Colorado and Washington to regulate sales of the drug. The department will focus enforcement on criminal charges in specific areas, such as distribution to minors.
Legal sales of recreational marijuana began in Colorado in early January. Forty stores around the state are now selling recreational marijuana. Colorado already had a system in place for licensing medical marijuana suppliers, the article notes. Those suppliers became the first group of outlets permitted to sell recreational marijuana.
While medical marijuana was already legal in Washington, the state did not have a system to formally regulate its supply and distribution. The WSLCB said it is currently processing more than 2,800 producer license applications.
A group of former top health officials is urging tobacco companies to stop marketing and selling menthol cigarettes. The group includes all of the living former U.S. Secretaries of Health, Surgeons General, and Directors of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The group, called the Citizens’ Commission to Protect the Truth, is also calling on the Obama Administration to allow the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban menthol flavoring in cigarettes.
Former Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Joseph A. Califano, Jr. and former Secretary of Health and Human Services, Louis W. Sullivan, MD, said banning menthol cigarettes is “imperative to avoid encouraging children and teens to start and continue smoking and to avoid the devastating impact of menthol cigarettes on the African-American community.”
The group called menthol “the spoonful of sugar that makes the deadly medicine these companies are selling go down.” They said there is overwhelming evidence that menthol disguises the harsh taste of tobacco, and makes it more difficult to quit smoking. They added tobacco companies aggressively market menthol cigarettes to African Americans, which has led to smoking-related deaths and diseases including cancer, heart disease, and lung diseases such as emphysema.
In November, the attorneys general of 24 states urged the FDA to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes. In a letter to the FDA, the attorneys general said “there are numerous law enforcement tools that can be used to combat production or importation of unlawful tobacco products. Moreover, the quantity of menthol cigarettes that could be made available on the black market would be far less than the quantity that will be available if menthol remains legal. Therefore, a ban on menthol would dramatically decrease public access to menthol cigarettes.”
A new survey of affluent women treated for alcohol and drug addiction finds prescription medication and heroin are their leading drugs of choice.
The online survey of 102 former patients, conducted by Caron Treatment Centers, found many women surveyed said they cared for their children, had careers and volunteered during their active addiction.
Seventy percent of the women who abused prescription drugs said they were initially prescribed the drugs legally for a physical or emotional ailment. The survey found 55 percent of respondents who were treated for an addiction to illegal drugs were also abusing heroin. Significant factors that led to addiction included a critical internal voice, depression and anxiety.
A majority of the women were married with children, but they said they were most likely to abuse drugs or alcohol when they were by themselves. The survey found 61 percent of respondents had a household income of $100,000 or more when they entered treatment.
Michelle Maloney, Executive Director of Treatment Services at Hanley Center, a Caron Treatment Center, said in a statement, “Female addicts often experience a lot of shame about using alcohol and drugs. They often feel they are the only ones with these problems. But we want them to know they are not alone. There are millions of women in recovery and all women deserve to get the help they need to live a healthy and productive life.”
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is joining with libertarian Republicans, including Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, in opposing mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders.
This political alliance may make it politically feasible to significantly liberalize sentencing laws, according to The New York Times. Libertarian-minded Republicans oppose long prison sentences because they see them as ineffective and expensive, the article notes. Rand is backing a sentencing overhaul bill in the Senate, and the House is considering similar legislation.
In August, Holder announced a Justice Department plan to change how some non-violent drug offenders are prosecuted. Low-level, nonviolent drug offenders who are not tied to large-scale drug organizations or gangs will not face mandatory minimum sentences.
Under the plan, severe penalties will be used only for serious, high-level or violent drug traffickers. Holder will give federal prosecutors instructions about writing their criminal complaints when they charge low-level drug offenders, in order to avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentences. Certain laws mandate minimum sentences regardless of the facts of the case.
In December, President Obama commuted the sentences of eight federal inmates who had been convicted of crack-cocaine offenses. Six of the inmates were sentenced to life in prison. The inmates likely would have received much shorter terms under current drug laws and sentencing rules.
While powder and crack cocaine are two forms of the same drug, until recently, a drug dealer who sold crack cocaine was subject to the same sentence as a dealer who sold 100 times as much powder cocaine.
The Fair Sentencing Act, enacted in 2010, reduced the disparity from 100 to 1 to 18 to 1, for people who committed their crimes after the law took effect. As a result, many defendants who are caught with small amounts of crack are no longer subject to mandatory prison sentences of five to 10 years. Those convicted of crack-cocaine crimes tend to be black, while those convicted of powder-cocaine offenses tend to be white.
Statistics continue to paint a stark reminder about the devastating impact of prescription (Rx) drug abuse and diversion.
Hydrocodone and other opioid analgesics were involved in about three of every four pharmaceutical overdose deaths in 2010, according to a February 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
According to the Trust For America’s Health, every day in the United States, 50 people die from an overdose of prescription drugs.
This is unacceptable.
Two years ago, Operation UNITE recognized that many good, successful initiatives were being implemented across the United States, but there was a lack of coordination, some duplication of efforts and many folks just not knowing where to turn to try and impact the problem.
So, in 2012, we launched the National Rx Drug Abuse Summit to spark a conversation among this country’s top legislators, physicians, nurses, pharmacists, treatment providers, law enforcement personnel, insurance payers, researchers and community advocates. We were overwhelmed with the response. Last year nearly 900 individuals from 49 states, the District of Columbia and two other countries shared their latest findings and strategies to bring solutions to the Rx drug abuse epidemic.
We have witnessed substance abuse problems spread from community to community, seemingly unabated. The Rx Summit is helping to meet challenges head-on through an unprecedented collaboration. We’re still far from declaring victory, but multi-disciplinary discussions are yielding results at all levels.
I am proud to be a part of the effort to help guide this national discussion. You, too, can let your voice be heard by participating in the third annual National Rx Drug Abuse Summit, to be held April 22-24, 2014, at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis. Once again our National Advisory Board has assembled an exceptional line up featuring more than 100 presenters, and we will be offering an opportunity to receive approximately 20 continuing education credits for your time.
How impactful is the Rx Drug Abuse in addressing this issue?
It’s so important that five of our nation’s top leaders will provide keynote addresses: Dr. Francis S. Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH); Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA); Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Michael Botticelli, deputy director for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP); and Dr. Margaret Hamburg, Commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In addition, Matthew Perry, an Emmy-nominated actor and recovering addict, will drive home the point that substance abuse can happen to anyone, and that it is possible to overcome the disease of addiction.
Other highlights of the 2014 Summit include:
• Thirty-five breakout sessions grouped into educational tracks – Third-Party Payer, Education & Advocacy, Treatment, Pharmacy, Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs (PDMPs), Clinical, and Law Enforcement. These sessions, led by frontline professionals, are tailored to provide you, the stakeholders, timely and relevant information and equip your organizations with the data, evidence and programs they need to maximize resources.
• Three special panel discussions featuring: 1) members of the bi-partisan U.S. House Congressional Caucus on Prescription Drug Abuse, 2) state governors and 3) state attorneys general. These sessions provide an opportunity to learn what is being done at the state and federal levels – and how you can impact legislative changes.
• Eleven vision sessions offering in-depth examination of innovative programs and strategies from organizations and businesses deeply involved in the fight against Rx abuse and diversion. You will learn firsthand what is being done NOW and what tools can be brought to bear in your efforts.
Where else can you find so many thought leaders gathered together to share their insights – and listen to YOUR perspective?
Let your voice be heard. Join the more than 1,000 expected Summit attendees sharing timely data about the prescription drug abuse crisis as we formulate impactful solutions at the local, state and national levels. Together we can make a lasting impact.
For information about the Summit visit www.NationalRxDrugAbuseSummit.org, or follow news about the event at Twitter.com/RxSummit, Facebook.com/RxSummit, or LinkedIn.com/RxSummit. Questions may be directed to Cheryl Keaton at 606-657-3218 or email@example.com.
A growing number of teens are starting to use devices that are similar to e-cigarettes, with names such as “hookah pens,” “e-hookahs” or “vape pens.” The devices are being marketed to avoid the stigma associated with smoking any kind of cigarette, The New York Times reports.
The new devices are colorful and come in candy flavors, but are otherwise almost identical to e-cigarettes, according to the article. Like e-cigarettes, they have nicotine and other chemicals, which are unregulated.
Health officials say surveys about e-cigarette use generally don’t ask about these other products, so they may be greatly underestimating how many people are using e-cigarettes and similar devices. They say teens appear to view e-cigarettes and e-hookahs as being different products, even though they are basically the same. Many young people say they are not interested in using e-cigarettes, but have tried hookah pens, vape pens or e-hookahs.
Emily Anne McDonald of the University of California, San Francisco, who is studying e-cigarette use among young people, told the newspaper that the lack of information about nicotine-vapor products was creating a vacuum “so that young adults are getting information from marketing and from each other. We need to understand what people are calling these before we send out large surveys,” she said. Otherwise the responses are not accurate, “and then you’re back to the beginning.”
Critics of e-cigarettes say secondhand vapor is a pollutant, and e-cigarettes can get more people addicted to nicotine. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will soon propose rules on regulating e-cigarettes. The FDA is expected to consider e-cigarettes as tobacco products, which will allow the agency to provide the same federal oversight that applies to cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigarette tobacco, and roll-your-own tobacco. E-cigarettes could be subjected to the same requirements for disclosure of ingredients, manufacturing quality and restrictions on sales to minors that apply to regular cigarettes.
Photo source: www.hookahpencentral.com
Law enforcement officials are concerned about a potentially addictive drug called kratom, which is sold as a tea in head shops, according to USA Today.
Young men are posting testimonials about the drug on YouTube, the article notes. Kratom is a tropical tree found in Southeast Asia. Its leaves are sold in the United States as a pill or powder to stir into drinks, the article notes.
“Kratom has been described as producing both stimulant and sedative effects,” the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) states on its website. “At low doses, it produces stimulant effects, with users reporting increased alertness, physical energy, talkativeness and sociable behavior. At high doses, opiate effects are produced, in addition to sedative and euphoric effects. Effects occur within 5 to 10 minutes after ingestion and last for 2 to 5 hours. Acute side effects include nausea, itching, sweating, dry mouth, constipation, increased urination, and loss of appetite.”
Some people who abuse prescription painkillers use kratom to alleviate the effects of opioid withdrawal.
Kratom can be addictive, according to the newspaper. The drug is not monitored by any national drug abuse surveys, so it is not known how many people use it. The drug is widely available on the Internet, according to the DEA. It is not approved for any medical purpose in the United States.
A new study concludes the Affordable Care Act could give an estimated 4 million people who have spent time in U.S. jails better access to health care, including coverage for treating substance abuse and mental illness.
While the law does not change health care access for people while they are in jail, it does improve the chance they will receive health coverage before and after they are in jail. This could reduce the chance they will end up being reincarcerated, the researchers said.
“Enrolling people who are to be released from jail will require substantial effort and resources,” study co-author Sara Rosenbaum of the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services said in a news release. “However, this investment will pay off in terms of better health, reduced costs and possibly the reduced risk of additional jail time.”
Many people in the nation’s 3,200 jails are mentally ill or homeless, HealthDay reports. Unlike people in prison, those who are in jail typically are arrested for misdemeanors or nonviolent crimes. About two-thirds of people sent to jail meet the criteria for mental illness at the time of their arrest, and about the same number have problems with alcohol or drug abuse, the researchers said. People in jail are often quickly released, but if they do not have access to health care, they are more likely to be rearrested.
Under the Affordable Care Act, people who have served time may be eligible for Medicaid coverage after they are released from jail. They also may benefit from new Medicaid expansion programs designed to provide coverage for more low-income Americans.
The study, published in Health Affairs, estimated that one in six people who are expected to enroll in Medicaid in states that have opted to expand their Medicaid programs will have spent time in jail in the past year. The researchers also estimated that one in 10 people enrolling in health plans through new online insurance marketplaces will have recently spent time in jail.
Some TV stations in New Jersey aired the first medical marijuana ad this week.
The ad, which aired on Comcast stations, compares medical marijuana to sushi, ABC News reports. An actor who plays a dealer says, “Yo, you want sushi? I got sushi. I got the best sushi.” He opens his coat to reveal it is lined with sushi. “Ain’t nobody sellin’ but me.” At the end of the ad, a woman’s voice says, “You wouldn’t buy your sushi from this guy, so why would you buy your marijuana from him?”
The ad was created by MarijuanaDoctors.com, which works in states with legalized medical marijuana to connect patients with doctors who will prescribe it. Currently 20 states and Washington, D.C., have enacted medical marijuana laws.
“We felt the viewing public would agree that in the states providing safe access, continuing to obtain medicine illegally is as absurd as purchasing raw fish from a drug dealer,” Jason Draizin, founder and CEO of MarijuanaDoctors.com, said in a news release.
According to Comcast spokeswoman Melissa Kennedy, the ads will only air in states where medical marijuana is legal, between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. It will not run during children’s and family programming, she said.
People who frequently abuse opioid painkillers are more likely to get the drugs from a doctor’s prescription or a dealer, rather than for free from family or friends, a new study finds.
Almost one-third of people who use opioids between 200 and 365 days a year obtained the drugs from a doctor’s prescription, compared with about one-fifth of those who use opioids less than 30 days per year, Reuters reports. Frequent opioid users were more than three times as likely as less frequent users to buy the drugs from dealers, the study found.
“This is the group where we really need to be targeting our efforts because they’re most at risk for overdose or dependence,” said lead author Christopher Jones, who was with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) when the study was conducted.
About 62 percent of less frequent opioid users got the drugs from people they knew, compared with 26 percent of frequent users. The researchers used data from a government survey on drug use, and found more than 12 million people age 12 and older used prescription opioids at least once a year to get high.
The findings are published in JAMA Internal Medicine.
“Many abusers of opioid pain relievers are going directly to doctors for their drugs,” CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, said in a news release. “Health care providers need to screen for abuse risk and prescribe judiciously by checking past records in state prescription drug monitoring programs. It’s time we stop the source and treat the troubled.”
Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman died from taking a combination of drugs, including heroin and cocaine, according to the New York City Medical Examiner. Experts say tens of thousands of overdose deaths annually in the United States are due to a mix of drugs.
In addition to heroin and cocaine, Hoffman had taken amphetamines and benzodiazepines, according to ABC News. He was found on February 2 with a needle in his arm. The medical examiner ruled his death accidental.
The addiction treatment medication buprenorphine was found in Hoffman’s apartment, along with 50 bags of heroin and a variety of prescription drugs, according to New York City detectives. ABC News reports authorities also found unused syringes and a charred spoon.
According to Dr. Len Paulozzi, a medical epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of overdose deaths in the United States involve a combination of drugs. At least one-fifth also involve alcohol.
A new government report finds 42.5 million American adults, or 18.2 percent of the adult population, suffers from some form of mental illness. About 4 percent suffers serious mental illness that impedes day-to-day activities.
The findings come from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Newsweek reports.
The state with the lowest rate of overall and severe mental illness was New Jersey, the report found. The overall mental illness rate in the state was 14.7 percent, while the rate of severe mental illness was 3.1 percent. In Utah, the state with the highest rate of overall mental illness, 22.3 percent of adults experienced mental illness. West Virginia had the highest rate of severe mental illness, at 5.5 percent.
The researchers conclude, “factors that potentially contribute to the variation are not well understood and need further study.”
“This report shows that, while the percentages vary, people in every state experience mental illness,” SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde said in a news release. “The findings from this report will help state and local public health officials and others address the mental health needs of the people in their communities.”
A study of moderate drinkers ages 55 to 65 found those who drink large amounts less often have higher death rates, compared with those who drink small amounts more regularly. The researchers say most studies that examine the potential effects of moderate drinking generally focus on average levels of drinking, instead of overall drinking patterns.
The study by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin looked at drinking patterns of moderate drinkers, comparing whether they spread out their alcohol consumption evenly, or drank less frequently but in larger amounts.
The study included 446 moderate drinkers—men who drank no more than four alcohol beverages a day, and no more than 14 drinks weekly, and women who had no more than three drinks a day, and no more than seven drinks weekly. The researchers found 372 participants spread out their drinking evenly, while 74 had episodes of heavy drinking.
“Among older moderate drinkers, we found that those who binge have double the odds of dying within the next 20 years compared to those who do not binge,” lead researcher Charles Holahan told HealthDay.
“Heavy episodic drinking concentrates alcohol’s toxicity and is linked to mortality by damaging body organs,” said Holahan. He added in a news release, “These findings demonstrate that, among older adults, drinking patterns need to be addressed along with overall consumption in order to understand alcohol’s health effects.”
The study appears in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
At The Partnership, we, like so many others, were heartbroken by the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman as the result of a heroin overdose.
Recently, our friends at In The Rooms shared with us a beautiful piece about Hoffman, penned by addiction recovery expert Tommy Rosen. In “Philip Seymour Hoffman and Me,” Tommy explains a unique connection with the actor, and shares his love and gratitude for Hoffman’s legacy. We were touched by Tommy’s perspective, and are proud to share it with you.
“Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Me” by Tommy Rosen
The temptation is to try to explain it in scientific terms. We want to understand the mystery of a man’s demise, particularly a man who had achieved so much in his career and who, by the nature of his work, was known across the globe. One thinks if this could happen to him with his successes and his fame, his family and all the blessings of his existence, then surely no one is safe. We are sobered once again as we face the misunderstanding that one’s outer world is an indicator of happiness rather than their inner world, which is the only place where true success can be measured. If we have been in the habit of having and doing, we look at others who seem to be doing a lot and having a lot with envy. Wow, look at them go!
Part of what hit so deeply about this loss was the emotional depth that Hoffman had plumbed to show us something about ourselves. He regularly visited emotional environments that few actors will ever choose to visit in their entire careers. We, therefore, felt so much “with him” that it is almost as if we have lost a friend and a teacher. It is mystifying and disorienting to lose a teacher to a dis-ease that people assume indicates moral weakness. On some level, many feel that he let them down. How could he do it? How could someone like him fall from the place we had appointed him to?
I’ll give you one possible explanation of what happened. Maybe, like so many, he was simply enthralled to death by the feeling produced by heroin as it seduces the human nervous system into the illusion that this is somehow better than living. You think that’s weakness? Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever your background, you could not possibly stand toe-to-toe against this craving if it was initiated within you. Though you may not have experienced such a craving, doesn’t make you better or stronger than another person who does. BUT if you have experienced this craving, you know what I am talking about. It’s bigger than you. It’s like having to fight a full-grown tiger with your hands tied behind your back.
So why now? How could something like this happen after such a long period of abstinence? I believe the answer requires a deeper understanding and respect for the addiction frequency, an energetic attunement, if you will, that holds a person captive and vulnerable to relapse unless it is dealt with on a regular basis (read: everyday). Much the same way a diabetic needs insulin, people who have crossed the line into acute addiction seem to need a few things, even after long periods of abstinence. The 2 main ingredients are a spiritual path and a community to support it. This is the foundation. Then, with the foundation in place it is an absolute requirement that one spend one’s life expanding upon that foundation. This can be the most joyous of journeys for it is a daily pathway to your heart. Some, like me, find it in the 12-Steps and yoga, others find it in other spiritual paths or therapeutic processes. Addiction is a disease of lack and we seem to need a spiritual experience to become whole again. It is also a dis-ease of isolation and so, we must come into community, common-unity, to draw upon necessary resources and to avoid being pulled down into morbidity. These are the first solutions to this problem. Whether you have struggled with addiction or care about someone who has, please bring yourself to accept this. In my experience, it holds as True.
Philip Seymour Hoffman died at 46 years old. I am 46 years old. Previously, he was 23 years sober. In June, barring the unseen, I will be 23 years sober. To say that his death hit home for me would be an understatement. Please do not let the message of his death be that the 12-Steps or other forms of recovery don’t work. He is in a small percentage of people who stay sober that long and then relapse. The great majority of people who make it to 5 years of recovery (85%) will not relapse (Source: Psychology Today), Somehow, he got cut off from the light. Somehow, he drifted back into a behavior which kills people.
Strangely, I will miss Philip. It’s strange because I never met him. I lament the loss of yet another brother to addiction. Along with the teachings he left us in his movies, please hear his final teaching: Stay vigilant on this path of recovery. Work your program, whatever that means to you, to the best of your ability. Keep your connection to each other and when you find the road to your own heart, walk it everyday.
R.I.P. Philip Seymour Hoffman.
With Love and Gratitude,