An Epidemic of Heroin Overdoses

By Shawn Dwyer 02/03/14

Philip Seymour Hoffman’s tragic death has shined a public light on an epidemic of heroin-related deaths that has until now been largely ignored.

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Two weeks ago, Rhode Island saw a huge spike in heroin-related deaths when 13 people were found dead from apparent overdoses. Last week, Pittsburgh suffered its own wave of heroin overdoses when a deadly batch of dope labeled Theraflu claimed the lives of 22 victims.

In both areas, the narcotic painkiller fentanyl – a drug 100 times more powerful than morphine – was found in the systems of the victims. Recently, batches of fentanyl-tainted heroin has plagued much of the northeastern United States, consuming cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. But it wasn’t until the untimely death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman that the nation's heroin epidemic and the resulting overdose deaths from fentanyl-laced dope have come into focus. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths have risen 102% from 1999 to 2010. In 2010 alone, sixty percent of overdose deaths in the United States were related to pharmaceuticals, with 75 percent of prescription drug deaths involving opioid painkillers. But because prescription drug use can prove costly, many addicts turn to street heroin when their habits intensify, first by snorting powder and then eventually through intravenous use. Hoffman was thought to have followed a similar course when he relapsed by taking pills before snorting and injecting heroin.

Because an actor of Hoffman’s stature has been ripped away by addiction, a new light has been shed on an old problem that has reached epidemic proportions in recent years, but until now has gone under-reported on the national level. Whether or not fentanyl-tainted heroin was in Hoffman’s system remains to be seen, but the one positive his death may have is that maybe now we as a nation can finally take real steps in treating people with addiction.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.